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Giving all students a great start – here’s how
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Giving all students a great start – here’s how

ACER news 5 minute read

In a recent webinar, experts in early childhood education and care (ECEC) research and service provision looked at what must happen to ensure equity of access to high quality ECEC for all children.

The current Australian ECEC model is designed to get parents back into the workforce, when it should be centred around the early learning needs of children, according to ACER early learning expert Dr Dan Cloney, speaking in our latest webinar in the 'Big Five Challenges in Education in a Changed World' series this week.

It was a powerful takeaway from a wide-ranging discussion with Myra Geddes, General Manager Social Impact at not-for-profit ECEC service provider Goodstart Early Learning, and The Australian Literacy & Numeracy Foundation (ALNF) Co-Founder and Executive Director Mary-Ruth Mendel.

In exploring the contrast between access to early learning and to school education, Ms Geddes invited the audience to imagine children being questioned at school gates about their parents' employment situation and then admitted – or denied – entry based on their responses. As Ms Geddes described, access to early learning services is not only dependent on family circumstances – there is also a 'cultural barrier' that exists in some parts of the community who believe ECEC is somehow not an essential part of a child's education.  

'To what extent do Australians value early learning?' Ms Geddes asked. 'We haven't been successful yet in getting across the message that early learning is something that should happen every day.'

Equity issues were a recurring theme in the discussion, with the research showing that disadvantaged children are less likely to be able to access good quality early learning programs.

'We know 22 per cent of kids arrive at school developmentally vulnerable in at least one domain, and socioeconomic factors play a part,' Dr Cloney said. 'The current mixed market approach to the delivery of ECEC services is not really set up to tackle these disadvantage-related gradients.'

Research showing that existing inequality may have been compounded further by remote learning was borne out in ALNF's work with disadvantaged families during the pandemic. 

'The critical divide here was the digital divide... which became an educational divide,' Ms Mendel said, resulting in many families being completely left out of remote learning.

The research shows that one in four First Nations households have no internet access, she continued, making it impossible for many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families to keep up. 

'We can't forget the lesson learned last year,' Ms Mendel said. 'We've got to make sure all families have access to the technology so that they can fully participate in online learning.'

Ms Geddes pointed to several positive outcomes from the pandemic.

'The pandemic gave everyone a new appreciation for what virtual learning is possible,' she said, 'And it also made everyone in our society, from the Prime Minister all the way through to mums and dads, really appreciate how essential early childhood workers were!'

Catch up on the discussion, free and on demand.

Don't forget to register for the final webinar in the 'Big Five' series, 'Raising the professional status of teaching', 4-5pm AEST on Wednesday 19 May. Read more about the genesis of this series

Research Conference On Demand

Dan Cloney was a guest presenter at Research Conference 2021 in August. Missed it? Watch all recordings in the main program through our Research Conference On Demand package, available for a limited time only.

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