EDITORIAL: Aiming to be average

It’s been a busy week for new data, research and analysis of Australia’s early childhood sector.

We’ve seen the release of Report on Government Services data, and the launch of a major new Report on the case for greater investment in early childhood education.

While there are interesting things to learn from the ROGS data, and the new Report provides an exhaustive and well-researched overview of the current state of play for early childhood in Australia, what most stands out is how they highlight to what extent we are just spinning our wheels.

The wealth of data available in ROGS merely confirms the trajectories and themes of the sector we already know.

Costs are increasing, and there is no real hope that the Government’s reform package in July will actually provide a structural fix.

Quality ratings are on an upward trajectory, but face ongoing challenges to embedding quality with an over-worked, under-resourced and appallingly-paid educator workforce. The policy response to those issues so far has been to remove every single dollar of Government funding for professional development.

We continue to fail to meet the target for Indigenous enrolment in preschool, let alone participation.

In Australia today, there is no serious policy debate on resolving these structural issues – which are only the visible slopes of an iceberg of challenges.

The Lifting Our Game report, expertly prepared and presented by Sue Pascoe AM and Professor Deborah Brennan, identifies all these issues (and many more and proposes a raft of recommendations and policy options to begin to address them.

But with no disrespect intended to Ms Pascoe and Professor Brennan’s excellent work, what really stands out from the Report is how low they have had to lower the bar for policy success in early childhood. It’s telling how often the Report the recommendations and suggestions for Government call for Australia to just reach the average.

Australia sits so far below the OECD on so many early childhood indicators, that even just reaching the average would be seen as a significant win.

Imagine the forward-thinking and visionary conversations that were happening when the Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals was developed ten years ago. Remember the goals of the National Quality Framework as they were being written, developed and trialed between 2009 and 2012. These could have been turning points.

I can’t seriously believe that any of the people who contributed their expertise and advocacy for children could have imagine we would be having the conversations we’re having today.

Scrambling every year to ensure funding for 4-year-old’s to attend preschool.

Having to re-set Closing the Gap targets for Indigenous children.

A sector advocacy response to a retrograde and cruel set of early childhood reforms that amounted to little more than trying to blunt a couple of the nastier edges, while providing no vision for reform that would actually support children – not just workforce participation.

The Report highlights key steps that need to be achieved to pull Australia out of its downward spiral in early childhood policy, and ensures that they are achievable.

But it’s time for the sector, and the community, to be braver and bolder on children’s right to access early childhood education from birth.

Surely we should be aiming to be at the top of every indicator related to our youngest children.

Or is aiming to be average the best we can do for them?

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