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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2017 Week 04 Hansard (Tuesday, 28 March 2017) . . Page.. 1160 ..

Madam Assistant Speaker, thank you for allowing me to bring this very important matter of public importance to the Assembly. I look forward to hearing what my colleagues have to say on this matter.

MRS KIKKERT (Ginninderra) (3.49): As the shadow minister for families, youth and community services, I am delighted to speak on the matter that is before us this afternoon—the importance of early childhood education in the ACT.

On this point, the research is clear. Brain development is most rapid in the early years of life. As Jack Shonkoff and Deborah Phillips have noted, the human brain develops the vast majority of its neurons and is at its most receptive to learning between birth and three years of age. The intake of new information during this period is critical to the formation of active neural pathways.

These pathways in turn play a strong, although not entirely determinative, role in a child’s lifetime social, emotional and educational outcomes. Patterns laid down early tend to be very persistent, and some have lifelong consequences. For example, as pointed out by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, studies both here and internationally have shown that children’s literacy and numeracy skills at age four to five are a predictor of academic achievement in primary school.

Consequently, children need to be exposed to high quality stimulation, support and nurturance in the early years, and, when they are not, their development can be seriously affected. For many children, this high quality early learning takes place primarily in the home, supplemented by community interactions. For this reason, we need to encourage families and community circles to be supportive and effective in their roles in children’s lives. Research indicates that children who experience a warm, stable, loving and stimulating home life, characterised by active learning opportunities and quality learning interactions, will develop the deep neural pathways necessary for their future development.

Some children, however, will not find the full range of stimulation, support and nurturance at home. Research suggests that these kids benefit from attending high quality education and care programs in the years before school. To be effective, these programs need to be supported by the community, be culturally appropriate, stable in their staffing and provided by capable educators. Sadly, children who attend early learning programs of poor quality actually show poorer outcomes at school entry, according to the research.

I grew up in Tonga and had no opportunity for formal early childhood education. Thankfully, when my mother could not look after me because she had to work, my grandparents took responsibility for caring for me. As a result, my relationship with my grandparents grew and strengthened because of that precious time that we had together. Every day, they educated me in things of great importance, and for that I am indebted to them.

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