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Groups unite for more toddler bums on early-learning seats

When an unlikely trio of early childhood advocacy organisations, researchers and private companies unite, you know it’s for a vital cause.

We already know that Australian kids fall into the bottom third of early education participation rates in the OECD. These groups want to do something about it. And do something they have: today marks the launch of the Early Learning: Everyone Benefits campaign, by 13 diverse bodies.

Former governor-general of Australia Quentin Bryce introduced the initiative in Brisbane this morning, with representatives from groups such as The Benevolent Society, the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute and Reggio Emilia Australia Information Exchange beside her.

A report documenting our unflattering early education rank, The State of Early Learning in Australia Report 2016, was simultaneously published. It reiterates well-known facts, such as that only 66 per cent of Australian 3-year-olds participate in early education. This is well below the OECD average of 74 per cent, and equates to a rank of 27 out of 39 countries, trailing the UK, New Zealand and Japan.

Our poor ranking isn’t just embarrassing, it has real-world negative effects. The 2015 Australian Early Development Census revealed 1 in 5 school-age Australian children are developmentally vulnerable. This can perhaps be attributed to inadequate investment; the report states that most states and territories spend less than 1 per cent of their budget on early learning.

Caring for kids was a key concern behind the campaign to raise the ranking, but of equal import was Australia’s future prosperity. “Our future depends on how we invest in our children today,” said businesswoman Wendy McCarthy, who serves on the boards of IMF Bentham and Good Start Early Learning. “We need to change the way we view early learning, and start to value it is an essential contributor to the nation’s economic health … Children who get a good start to their schooling can better develop the expertise and skills to become productive members of the workforce and contribute to society.”

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