How do you eat an echidna? Tackling education’s spiky problems with ambition
The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the view of The Sector.
Community Child Care Association Executive Director Julie Price and Community Early Learning Australia CEO Michele Carnegie were present when Federal Education Minister Jason Clare addressed the National Press Club on Wednesday, and have prepared the following reflection based on his remarks.
Minister for Education Jason Clare set out an ambitious reform agenda at his National Press Club speech, painting education as the great equaliser and the foundation for Australia’s economic success.
Minister Clare committed to implementing all first steps recommended in the Universities Accord Interim Report including:
- Establishing up to 20 additional Regional University Study Hubs
- Abolishing the 50 per cent pass rule, introduced as part of the Job-ready Graduates Scheme
- Extending demand-driven funding to all First Nations students who are eligible for the course they apply for.
When our early education workforce reflects the diversity of our communities, we create early education services that are truly inclusive. These announcements can help a broader range of teachers and educators to study and work in the sector. This combined with reforms like multi-employer bargaining can help to attract and retain a professional highly trained workforce.
Minister Clare knows that if we invest in early education, we can secure Australia’s future for generations. He has challenged the whole education sector to embrace this opportunity for embracing big ideas and reforms. We are in the middle of the most significant reform opportunity in recent history and it’s clear that Minister Clare does not want to miss this moment.
He referenced President Biden’s point that US children who go to preschool are nearly 50 per cent more likely to finish high school and go on to college or university. We all know that investing in school, TAFE and universities improves our economic productivity and enriches our social fabric. However, even though 90 per cent of the brain’s development happens before the age of five, we don’t attach the same value to early education and care. By setting children up for success in school and life, we can deliver an economically strong and socially just Australia, now and in the future.
Minister Clare was clear that he wants to close the education gap rather than just focusing on funding shortfalls. We see this as a clear signal that quality matters to this Minister. Investing in quality education has never been more important. It can help to drive sustainable productivity, grow our skilled workforce and reduce social inequity. To face the challenges of an aging population, climate change and shifting economic priorities, now more than ever, we need to do everything we can to ensure Australia is a smart and innovative country.
The figures add up on the economic benefits of quality early education and care system. The Centre for Policy Development estimates that 30 hours of free government-funded early education and care could produce an additional annual $4.9 billion in tax revenue and savings as well as $13.2 billion in GDP from 2030. By supporting children, we also support families. At the moment, families cannot easily access quality early education and care. This should be easy and affordable, regardless of where you live or how much you earn.
When we support families to access early education, parents and carers can make choices about going back to work or increasing their hours. Universal free early education and care can remove the barriers holding back families, help children reach their full potential and ensure our economy grows sustainably.
To give children the best start in life, we need to invest in our educators and teachers, the predominantly female workforce at the heart of the sector. We cannot pay minimum wage and expect to attract early educators who are qualified to deliver the high quality services that children need.
Australia needs a professionally paid, highly trained early education and care workforce. Multi-employer bargaining is the quickest and most effective way to improve wages and solve staffing shortages without increasing costs to parents. We can do this while reducing the gender pay gap and supporting economic equality for around 200,000 women workers.
Australia’s families, teachers and educators are ready for change. Minister Clare was clear he sees quality early education as the basis for the modern education system that Australians deserve. We are looking forward to the same level of ambition and investment in response to Productivity Commission recommendations for the early childhood sector.
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