Early learning is not babysitting
Early learning isn’t a means to an end, it’s an end in itself
Similar to the situation in many Western countries, the
establishment of childcare services in Australia was related primarily to women’s participation in the labour market. The emphasis in childcare was on health and therefore practices focused on hygiene, safety and regularity of routines such as sleeping, eating and toileting.
In comparison, historically, preschools had primarily educational aims. The emphasis was on learning.
While internationally and within Australia there have been many attempts to align the purposes of childcare and education, the common perception is that they are different. One of the underpinning assumptions of this difference is that “real” learning begins at school (or preschool).
Most often engagement with the “three Rs” is viewed as more important than the learning that has occurred before it. This perception persists despite the research evidence from neuroscience, economics and social science that the experiences and learning in the first 2000 days of life, before a child enters primary school, are critical in establishing trajectories in health, learning and behaviour. There is an importance of learning in the early years.
Given the contemporary importance and status of international comparisons of educational outcomes, the Australian public and policy debates must be attentive to the fact that, in OECD comparisons, the countries that are performing best invest much more than Australia in ECEC.
The countries that view childcare as a public, shared, important responsibility demonstrate the relationship between consistent ongoing investment in early childhood education and long-term educational outcomes.
If Australia is to live up to its aspirations of being the innovative clever country, it needs to pay serious attention to the learning that occurs before children enter primary school. Viewing childcare as important learning rather than babysitting so mum can go to work is a good place to start. Susan Krieg, Associate Professor, Flinders University