Page 1159 - Week 04 - Tuesday, 28 March 2017

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The options for early childhood education in Canberra are diverse. In fact, early childhood education has been a valued part of the ACT community since the establishment of the first nursery school in 1943. These days, government schools, Catholic and independent schools, long day care, occasional care, family day care, Montessori schools, as well as bilingual preschools and playgroups are some of the options available to parents. All are on hand to provide a playful, nurturing and educational environment for children.

The ACT continues to perform well against national data collected by the Australian early development census, which measures the development of schoolchildren in their first year of formal schooling. By measuring physical wellbeing, emotional and social competence, as well as cognitive skills, the census allows authorities to assess the development vulnerability of young children and what changes need to happen to ensure children get the best start. Reassuringly, the ACT has a lower percentage of developmentally vulnerable children in these areas when compared nationally.

As mentioned before, the national quality framework has essentially taken eight different regulatory regimes in states and territories and made one national framework that applies across the country. The national quality framework includes an assessment and rating process. Each service has a quantitative audit to establish a quality rating. The assessment and rating is not a benchmark of minimum compliance but a benchmark of progress of services to achieve, develop and excel in the 58 elements of quality agreed to by states, territories and the commonwealth.

The implementation of the national quality framework in the ACT has seen an increase in the overall quality of early childhood services across the spectrum. In particular, there has been an increase in the number of qualified educators across the sector, greater partnerships with community and government agencies, stronger relationships between families and educators, and a deeper understanding of quality programming and practice for early learning.

Before closing this afternoon, I would also like to briefly acknowledge early childhood educators and the work they do. In a typically female-dominated industry, these workers are skilled, knowledgeable and invaluable. For much too long their work has been seen as menial, and it has occasionally been dismissed as little more than babysitting. Nothing could be further from the truth.

They bring intrinsically transferrable skills that allow them to communicate with children and their parents. They bring patience and care to the lives of children and their parents. They allow many of us to return to work and to continue participating in the labour market, as is evident in the labour market participation rates amongst women in the ACT, which continue to surpass the rest of the country. And they bring the knowledge and experience to ensure our children are given every opportunity, in the earliest period of their lives, to succeed and transition to school. These workers deserve adequate recognition and compensation for their role.

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