How can we change our mindsets about the value and importance of early childhood development and care?
What’s the Problem?
When Early Childhood Development and Care (ECDC) is discussed both in the media and in policy circles, we often observe a heavier emphasis on the last word of the term – care. In reality, what is more important to society as a whole are all the aspects of the development of children, which include health and wellbeing, mental health, social functioning and cognitive development, all of which significantly impact children’s long-term outcomes.
There is clear evidence from Australia and overseas that the early years of a child’s life have a profound impact on their future health, development, learning and wellbeing. Preschool education has led to higher educational levels, better job outcomes and income later in life, reduce socio-economic inequalities (with children from less advantaged backgrounds benefitting more) and improved intergenerational education mobility.
Research also shows that investing in resources to support children in their early years of life is an essential part of the infrastructure for a successful society. It helps in optimising the global wellbeing of populations and brings long-term benefits to the entire community. Investment in childhood education has also been proven to be a good economic decision that reaps high returns for society.
With so many benefits, it is concerning that many still view service providers as child minding centres with the main purpose of getting parents back to the workforce. Despite the fact that the productive and healthy future of our society is dependent upon the care and education we give our children, our childcare providers are often viewed as babysitters. Instead, centres should be seen as important institutes of learning and development. Early education should be recognised as one of the most significant investments in education and productivity that governments can make.
What are your ideas on how mindsets can change about the value of early childhood development and care?
- Research shows that many Australian families are unaware of the science of early childhood learning and development.
- Research has shown that many challenges faced by adults, such as mental health issues, obesity, heart disease, criminality, and poor literacy and numeracy, can be traced back to pathways that originated in early childhood.
- High quality early childhood education can make significant contributions especially for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. The US Perry Preschool program, for example, has been shown to still benefit children that were in poverty and at high risk of failing in school, even up till age 40.
- The OECD countries that are performing best invest much more than Australia in Early Childhood Education and Care.
- Investing in children makes good economic sense - for every dollar invested in early childhood care, up to A$17 can be returned. The average return is A$2.36.
- Overall Australia remains behind the rest of the developed world in supporting access to quality early learning. While we have caught up in rankings to improve access for four-year-olds, we are far behind comparable countries in terms of the participation of three-year-olds in early childhood education, including the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Denmark.
- Early Learning, Everyone Benefitsis a grassroots campaign aiming to shift community perceptions about early learning.