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Clinton’s childcare policy trumps Australia’s

Australia has always followed America militarily, culturally and economically. Yet one area where we’ve historically disregarded our Atlantic ally is childcare policy. That might change if Hillary Clinton is elected president this November.

Clinton is advocating for universal childcare for US 4-year-olds, as her recently released childcare policy revealed. “She has clearly embraced research, and is focused on getting children off to a good start”, deemed Dr Marianne Fenech, program director of the master of early childhood teaching and bachelor of early childhood education programs at the University of Sydney. “If 4-year-olds get [universal access, as presaged by Clinton], it’s better than what we’re offering at the moment.”

Australia endows 4-year-olds with just 15 hours of childcare a week, and this “doesn’t translate to free access at all. It’s quite a complicated system,” Fenech said.

She also praised Clinton’s endorsement of a pay raise for early-childhood educators as a step in the right, respectful, direction, and a departure from the Australian state of affairs, in which “early childhood education teachers don’t receive the same public recognition or status as teachers working in schools”. Getting high-calibre students into the profession and retaining staff are hindered by the profession’s low status and pay, Fenech contended. She maintained this negatively affects kids, who, in addition to the lack of quality teaching, aren’t given the opportunity to form meaningful relationships with their tutors.

Yet all’s not rosy in the American early-learning sphere and adverse in the Australian one. Fenech lambasted the childcare policy of the other main US presidential candidate, Donald Trump. Unlike Clinton, Trump makes no call for universal preschool entitlement. Fenech took issue with his approach to childcare costs. “Something quite illustrative for how behind Trump is with his policy is his statement that it’s [not] expensive for a company to do it, [that] you just need one or two people and some blocks and … toys”, she asserted.  “His policy is very out of touch with a substantial body of research that shows that quality early-childhood education makes a significant difference for children … and also reaps national benefits, like productivity.”

Comparing Trump’s policy to the Australian Government’s, with its focus on workforce participation instead of on children’s education, Fenech labelled it “a policy for adults”. Though she conceded that at least, with our National Quality Framework, satisfactory childcare is assured in Australia.

Even if Clinton beats Trump, Australia need not look only to her for early-learning inspiration. Fenech opined that New Zealand, the UK and the Nordic countries are strides ahead in their early-education policies. These countries, Fenech said,“see [early education] as a public good … that benefits society as a whole.”

All of these nations offer more universal childcare than Australia. Additionally, on average, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries, including those mentioned, invest 0.6 per cent of their budgets in childcare. In comparison, Australia invests 0.1 per cent, which, while measly, is still greater than America’s spending in this area.

However, what we can borrow from the US – specifically, from Clinton – Fenech believes, is her aspiration.

“She has a vision for a system of quality, equitable early-childhood education,” Fenech said. “And I think that’s what we lack in Australia.”

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