In the early 1940s, a collaborative effort between the community and the Ministry of the Interior led to the early beginnings of preschool education in the ACT.
In her blog, Under Sixes, educator and academic Carolyn Harkness traces over 70 years of reports and documents, representing the journey of early childhood education in the ACT. It’s a story about bringing quality preschool education to virtually every four year old child in Canberra.
Today the journey continues with the Territory’s early childhood strategy Set up for Success which outlines the plan for early childhood education and care over the next decade.
Set up for Success builds on and draws from findings in two earlier reports. One is the report from the ACT’s extensive Future of Education consultation process. The other is an independent review requested by all Australian states and territories, called Lifting Our Game, which examines how to achieve educational excellence through early childhood interventions.
The new Strategy focuses on workforce development initiatives, while recognising each child has their own story. It aims to create a collaborative community around the child. It’s an early childhood roadmap for the next decade over three phases.
Past and future legacies
We know that not every child has the same advantages. Set Up For Success recognises that the strength of the ACT community stems from valuing every child — seeing early childhood education and care as a social good with children’s outcomes at the centre.
The implementation plan includes a commitment to work towards 15 hours per week, 600 hours per year, of free universal early childhood education for three year olds, expanding the existing preschool for four year olds to two years prior to starting school.
It is also exploring out of school hours care for preschoolers in a preschool setting, and improving integration between preschool settings and primary schools to facilitate the early transitioning experiences for children.
A great start for every child
We hear a lot about the overwhelming evidence that participation in quality early childhood education improves children’s readiness for school with the greatest benefits for children experiencing disadvantage.
Children who access play-based learning, guided by qualified educators have more highly developed dispositions for learning and experience other benefits including increased cognitive capabilities.
The early development of children’s social and emotional skills is intrinsic to their futures through their achievement at school and at work, relationships and social cohesion, and mental health and wellbeing. The skills they learn affect outcomes over their lifetime.
Children who participate in high-quality early childhood education are more likely to complete year 12, less likely to repeat grades or require additional support, and ultimately have higher employment prospects, financial security, better health outcomes and reduced crime.
The Set Up For Success strategy is significant to the futures of all ACT communities and their young learners. The commitment to a fair start to life for every ACT child is recognition of the work that’s been done, a clear focus on future directions to improve access, value educators, and strengthen partnerships.
Educators and partnerships
While focusing on the importance of delivering quality in early childhood education and care, the strategy acknowledges the critical role of early childhood educators and the essential nature of partnerships between parents, schools and a range of community and health services.
This isn't a plan to increase pressure on children to read, write or demonstrate advanced abilities at an increasingly younger age. The science of learning is applied through the expertise of early childhood teachers supported by schools, families and services.
Early Years Learning Framework
The guiding framework for early childhood educators is Australia’s Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF). Specifically designed for young learners from birth to five years the EYLF comprises three major concepts — Belonging, Being and Becoming.
Belonging is the basis for living a fulfilling life. Children feel they belong because of the relationships they have with their family, community, culture and place.
Being is about living here and now. Childhood is a special time and children need time to just ‘be’ — time to play, try new things and have fun.
Becoming is about the learning and development that young children experience. Children start to form their sense of identity from an early age, which shapes the type of adult they will become.
Play is learning
Early childhood educators use the Framework in partnership with families so children learn through their play and bring their own ideas, interests, strengths and abilities to the setting. Parents and teachers regularly acknowledge the overlap between the EYLF and the early primary school curriculum.
Relationships are key
When young children develop trusting relationships they feel more confident to explore their environment and learn about the world around them. The relationships they have with key adults are crucial to building confidence. Emotionally secure children learn through play to develop the skills and understandings they need to interact positively with others and gradually learn to take responsibility.
The EYLF is currently under review, which is an opportunity for refinement in line with research about what works best to support children and their families.
Set Up For Success is being implemented over three phases, to be reviewed periodically for feedback and refinement. For parents and school communities, it’s important to be aware of the work, acknowledge the impacts, and provide feedback via Council, your parent organisation, or your local school in relation to navigating the early childhood education journey.
This article appeared in ParentACTion Magazine, Term 2, 2021.