AEU hits out about preschool enrolment fall shown in latest Closing the Gap report

by Freya Lucas

February 25, 2020

The Australian Education Union (AEU) has hit out in relation to the latest Closing the Gap report, saying the Government has shown a “lack of commitment” to addressing “the serious issues of inequality apparent between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and other Australians”.


Most concerning, the AEU said, is the drop in the early childhood education and care (ECEC) enrolment target. The target of having 95 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander four-year-old children enrolled in ECE by 2025 was achieved in 2017, yet fell to only 86.4 per cent in 2018, comparative to the 91.3 per cent attendance rate for other children. 


AEU Federal President Correna Haythorpe said that education has a transformative effect in children’s lives by addressing inequality, and that falling Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ECEC enrolment rates were “of particular concern, as preschool was such a fundamental foundation for future achievement”.


“We know that when Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children attend high quality preschool and early childhood education programs, they are more likely to thrive at school and later on life,” Ms Haythorpe said, saying the regression against the ECEC enrolment target is “particularly concerning because of the impacts lack of access to and attendance in high-quality ECEC programs will have on people’s lives well in to the future.”


“The skills and abilities children develop in preschool lead to stronger academic performance through school, a greater likelihood of undertaking further education,” she added, noting the “improved cognitive, social and emotional outcomes, and the importance of preschool education in providing a strong foundation for learning”.


She called on the Government to commit to guaranteeing ongoing funding for Universal Access to preschool for all three- and four-year-old children, saying that Australia is one of only eleven countries in the world that did not fund two years of ECEC for children in the years before school.


Whilst the lack of surety and access may affect all children, Ms Haythorpe added, it will impact Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children the most. 


“Whilst we recognise Minister Wyatt’s commitment to shaping a new approach to engaging with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations through the Closing the Gap Refresh process, we call on the Minister to work closely with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander education leaders, communities and their representative bodies in the education sector, to ensure the process is informed by their expertise,” Ms Haythorpe said.


To read The Sector coverage of the Closing the Gap report, please see here.