We listened to the science about COVID-19, why not listen about ECEC too? Oberklaid asks
While Australia’s navigation of the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic has been exceptionally well handled, Professor Frank Oberklaid, AM has said, recent commentary that positions early childhood education and care (ECEC) purely as a vehicle for economic recovery leaves the enhanced opportunities for the early learning and amplified development ECEC provides for the young child left out of the conversation.
Here, the Professor said, there has been “little if any progress” in efforts to have policy informed by the science – the research that documents the benefits of high-quality education and care to child development and early learning.
The fact that Australia has managed the pandemic well thus far, he continued, can be attributed to “a strong national and state public health infrastructure, and a cohort of scientists and clinical experts and the universities and research institutes they work in, as good as any in the world”.
“Virologists, epidemiologists, immunologists, and experts in mathematical modelling, vaccine development, and many other specialists, have quickly mobilized in a truly impressive collaborative effort to learn about the virus and recommend how best to combat it.”
While the words of experts have been heeded in this domain, the Professor noted, there are “several decades” of research that “emphatically documents that the foundations of an individual’s future health, wellbeing and achievement are established in the early years of life,” which are absent from current discussions and decision makings.
“Learning begins well before children start school, and the progression of development depends largely on the young child being exposed to a richly stimulating and nurturing environment. Despite the very best of intentions and for a number of reasons, many families struggle to provide good social and learning opportunities during these critical early years; their children are disadvantaged as a result. Having their children attend high quality childcare can enhance their social and cognitive development and help ensure they get off to a good start at school,” Professor Oberklaid said.
While Australia looks to chart the road back to economic growth, he continued, policy makers should take note of the research which points to the strong link between child development and economic development.
Quoting Nicholas Kristof, the New York Times columnist, Professor Oberklaid noted “early education is the low hanging fruit of public policy”.
“The first few years of a child’s life provides a unique, never to be repeated window of development where enlightened, research informed public policy can make a major and sustainable difference to a nation – an investment in human capital and social infrastructure,” he said.
“The Australian government has provided us with an impressive example of a situation where public policy informed by science results in good outcomes. A precedent has been established and all researchers now hope it can be sustained.”
“Taking note of the science that demonstrates clearly the long-term individual, societal and economic benefits of universal accessible and affordable high quality childcare is as important to Australia’s future as increasing women’s participation in the workforce. Australia benefits in both ways,” the Professor concluded.
To read this piece in its original format, please see here.
Professor Frank Oberklaid, AM, is an internationally recognised researcher, author, lecturer and consultant, and has written two books and over 200 scientific publications on various aspects of children’s health and development. He is Co-Group Leader of Child Health Policy, Equity and Translation at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute and a Professor of Paediatrics at the University of Melbourne.