The 2017 Starting Strong report has recently been released, shining some light on areas of improvement within Australia’s early childhood education and care (ECEC) sector.
Australian ECEC enrollment has grown significantly in recent years, jumping from 53% in 2005 to 85% in 2014, due in part to The National Partnership Agreement which creates greater access and funding for childcare. However, Australia still lags behind most of Scandinavia, Germany, France and Britain.
Australia has one of the lowest rates of three-year-old enrolment, sitting at about 15%. By contrast, Australia has fewer than 10 students per teacher, compared to China, France and Chile who all have greater than 20 students per teacher.
Australia is by no means a leader in ECEC services, but it is making progress.
The impact of ECEC services has been shown to have dramatic impacts on learners throughout their childhood and adolescent development. Children who attend ECEC for two years see far stronger academic results in subsequent studies. In fifteen-year-olds, children who attended 2 years of ECEC were far more likely to achieve top-tiered academic results, especially in science, compared with children who attended 1 year or less of ECEC. It is also shown that a longer length of enrolment yields stronger academic achievements than other variables such as teacher to student density or cost.
The comparably lower enrolment figures and shorter enrolment periods are worrying when compared to these findings.
Another worrying factor for Australian parents was cost.
Childcare in Australia is one of the highest in the OECD, having risen above the rate of inflation since 2013. A day of childcare can cost between $80 – $160 depending on the city and type of care. Many parents choose to have a stay at home parent as an alternative to paying high childcare rates. This causes concerns for early childhood development, and government revenue as parents are less likely to return to the workforce, in which case there are fewer tax dollars.
Despite these overbearing costs, Australia sits seventh on the list when compared as a percentage of net income. Britain comes in on top with a whopping 33% of household incomes being spent on childcare, dropping to 24% for Switzerland in the fifth spot.
Figures show that Australia is improving, and the National Partnership Agreement stands to benefit families further. But more can be done to start children in ECEC from a younger age, but also subsidise care to the point where a stay at home parent is no longer a preferable arrangement.