Dr Andrew Forrest dedicates air time in inequality lecture to drive home the role of ECEC
Dr Andrew Forrest, best known in early childhood education and care (ECEC) circles for his work with the Minderoo Foundation and Thrive by Five, has used his third and final Boyer Lecture to outline the value of early childhood education in addressing inequality.
The lecture, titled The Economics of Inequality was delivered to ABC Radio listeners as part of the Boyer Lectures series, which have been in place since 1959, and which aim to spark conversation about critical ideas.
During his lecture Dr Forrest outlined that “another area where Australia’s failing on inequality is early childhood development”.
“One in five Australian children – enters primary school already behind in language, emotional development and reasoning,” he explained, outlining the “vital importance” of stimulating a child’s brain development from day one.
“Before the age of five, our brains are like playdough – they can be shaped in many different ways. A child who’s encouraged to interact – to play, to sing, to read and explore within a loving family – is set up for success.”
For children who grow up without those vital early interactions, however, the disadvantages they experience may be life long.
In order to address the disparity, Dr Forrest said, “we need to take a fresh look at our childhood development policies and make sure they reflect the science. We need to reduce pressures on families, while increasing their capabilities.”
“We need to empower parents to create the best possible home for their kids. We need our kindergartens, pre-schools, and childcare centres, and all carers therein, to ensure they have the skills, so every child has access to these essential interactions.”
Dr Forrest then spoke about the work of the Minderoo Foundation, both in developing the Bright Tomorrows app, and in funding a program on the outskirts of Perth “that tackles this problem head on.”
The program supported by the Foundation is the brainchild of Lee Musumeci, the visionary principal of Challis Primary in West Australia’s Armadale, one of the country’s most disadvantaged metropolitan communities.
“Almost 10 years ago, Lee realised the rates of developmental vulnerability at the school were far higher than the national average,” Dr Forrest explained.
The kids couldn’t answer questions in full sentences, they didn’t know how to take turns or share things, they couldn’t name basic body parts…So Lee did something quite extraordinary. She set up a program that connects parents to the school right after the child is born.”
Children who participate in the programs offered by Challis meet their primary school teachers at six weeks of age. Parents are supported to access childcare, manage rental agreements, and access other support services from the point they connect to the program, so that children arrive at school with every possible advantage, despite their circumstances.
“The results have been so extraordinary that kids at Challis are now punching well above their weight,” Dr Forrest said, adding that the program “shows that inclusion, empathy, and support has to start right at the beginning of life to ensure our kids grow up to be successful, happy and productive members of society, and that radical policy changes have to happen in order to get there.”
“It can happen… so let’s demand that it does,” he said in closing.