Early Childhood Education targets on track according to 2020 Closing the Gap report

by Jason Roberts

February 12, 2020

The latest Closing the Gap report highlights that the target to ensure 95 per cent of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander four year olds are enrolled in early childhood education programs by 2025 is on track, with 86.4 per cent of children enrolled in 2018.

 

The report, released annually by the Commonwealth Government, is designed to provide an update on progress on reducing inequality in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples life expectancy, children’s mortality, education and  employment since the National Indigenous reform Agreement was established. 

 

Early childhood education is one of the key fundamental “building blocks” which would underpin improvement. 

 

This year’s report confirmed that in 2018 86.4 per cent of the estimated population of Indigenous children were enrolled in early childhood education programs in the year before school, up from 76.7 per cent in 2016, and significantly above the estimated level of around 80 per cent expected for 2018. 

 

New South Wales the laggard across states and territories at 75.7 per cent

The report also highlighted the performance of the individual states and territories.  Once again New South Wales has been noted as the laggard when it comes to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander four year old enrolment, at 75.7 per cent, followed closely by the Northern Territory at 76.4 per cent. 

 

The trend of low relative participation in NSW, however, is not restricted to children from Indigenous backgrounds, with the State faring poorly in overall preschool attendance. The Australian average for preschool attendance sits at 91 per cent, with NSW lagging at just 84 per cent of eligible children enrolled. 

 

On the flip side, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander four year old enrolment in Victoria, the ACT and South Australia were over 100 per cent, with Indigenous enrolment rates in Victoria and South Australia higher than non Indigenous enrolment rates. 

 

Attendance rates remain steady but variations between regions remain

While the target focuses on enrolment, attendance rates provide additional insight into how many children are actually participating and as a key measure have remained relatively stable between 2016 and 2018 at 93.4 per cent and 93.7 per cent respectively. 

 

The equivalent attendance rate improved slightly for non-Indigenous children during this period were slightly higher at 96.4 per cent and 97.8 per cent. 

 

But as expected the attendance rates fell as communities became more remote. Inner regional  attendance rates were 96.6 per cent however, very remote areas were around 79.7 per cent. 

 

The report notes a number of factors that can impact attendance rates such as out of pocket costs, a limited awareness of services, administrative complexity, lack of transport or locally available services, poor child health, a perception that the child is too young to participate, a lack of confidence in the value of early education services or fear of racism and judgment.

 

However, initiatives such as Connected Beginnings have worked to counter these challenges by creating programs that integrate early childhood health, education and family support services, including funding local Aboriginal and Community Controlled Health Services to  provide children and families with holistic support and timely access to existing services. 

 

To read this year’s report please click here

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