Page 2452 - Week 07 - Thursday, 3 August 2017

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program, pushing for change on the many different levels of this issue, stands out internationally as an example of a government working across different functions in pursuit of a safer community. The Finnish response was a good reminder of the need to keep pursuing gender equity across all parts of life: in the workplace, sport, political representation and elsewhere.

This trip provided a great opportunity to study education systems. The delegation, which included high school principal Lana Read, had a strong focus on observing and learning across all levels: early childhood education and care and, all levels of school, system administration and government decision-making. The whole delegation was keen to both gather ideas and bust some myths, and I am confident we achieved both of those goals.

The itinerary deliberately emphasised the key themes in the future of education work currently underway. The systems visited are not only among the top international performers, but they also shared the fundamental belief that every child deserves a great education and the life chances that flow from it. This was evident in every conversation throughout the trip, despite the cultural differences that you might expect in two countries which are not only culturally different to Australia but also to each other.

While the latest international PISA rankings of Singapore—first—and Finland—fifth—are higher than Australia—14th—our visit to schools in both countries affirmed that ACT schools compared favourably on many levels. What was learned can help the ACT build off its strong base and further improve, particularly in meeting the learning and wellbeing needs for all ACT children and young people.

In early childhood, the research is clear that success in school, particularly for disadvantaged children, is founded in quality of early childhood education. This message was repeatedly enforced. Both countries’ governments heavily subsidise participation in early learning and care programs. In Singapore the cost to families can be as low as $1 per child per month. This is one way that both countries can ensure that all children, regardless of background, have the best chance of success when they start formal schooling. The cost of child care in the ACT is one of the barriers to an equal start at school for children from the most vulnerable backgrounds.

Finland also has many notable features to its early childhood education system: extensive, 12-month long and flexible parental leave; nine maternal health checks in the first 12 months then one a year until the age of five; seamless connections between pre-primary and day care programs with the same centres and no need for transitions or movements between sites; free meals at all centres; transport provided but rarely needed as children attend their local centre; and mechanisms which build universality and equity into the system, in particular, their play parks which offer such a welcoming place for young children and families to play, eat, learn and get other kinds of support if they need it. The school holiday programs at the play parks include free hot lunches for all children up to age 16. This is consistent with their schools, which provide free hot lunches for every student every day, and have done so for 75 years.

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