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‘Unforgivable’: Early education enrolment one of only two Closing the Gap targets on track

The 2019 Closing the Gap Report has revealed that only two of seven targets to reduce disadvantage for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are on track, one of which is a target for enrolment in early education.

The Prime Minister Scott Morrison made a yearly address to Parliament on the Closing the Gap Report, and described the continued failure to meet the targets as ‘unforgivable’.

“I want Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children to have the same opportunity as any other child in this country,” he said. “But, it’s not true for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children growing up in Australia today, and it’s never been true and I don’t know when it will be true.”

The Report does reveal that that the target to have “95 per cent of all Indigenous four year olds enrolled in early childhood education by 2025” is on track.

However, only 68 per cent of of those children were actually attending a program for 600 hours or more in a year – the amount generally agreed by research to be the minimum number of hours to ensure positive early education outcomes.

The Government has stated that it will “continue to work across agencies, with state and territory governments, experts and other stakeholders to improve preschool attendance rates”. However, no specific policies or programs have been announced to address the gap between enrolment and participation.

The Government’s Jobs for Families reforms in 2018 saw the ending of Budget Based Funding for Aboriginal-run Early Childhood Centres. SNAICC: National Voice for our Children has expressed serious concerns about the viability and survival of Indigenous Early Education services following those changes.

The target to halve the gap in child mortality rates by 2018 is not on track. The Indigenous infant mortality rate is twice the rate for non-Indigenous infants. Between 2013 and 2017, 16 per cent of Indigenous child deaths were before the child turned 4.

The target to halve the gap for Indigenous children in reading and numeracy is also not on track.

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