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Mitchell Institute calls for preschool for 3-year-olds

Why have one year, when you can have two? Independent educational think tank the Mitchell Institute argues this truism is profoundly applicable to preschool years.

In fact, in the institute’s just-released, evidence-based report, Preschool – Two Years are Better than One, it states our current framework, which provides just one year of universal preschool, is both insufficient and incongruent with OECD practices. “Most peer OECD countries, like the UK, most of Western Europe, and New Zealand, offer two years of preschool”, report co-author Dr Stacey Fox stated.

Although two-thirds of Australian children already attend preschool for two years, according to Fox, “the number of hours and the types of programs they attend vary greatly”. Additionally, the report stated that it’s those who need it most who don’t get an extra year of preschool education.

What’s in (an extra) year?

The teaching of academic skills, like early literacy and numeracy, were found to be just one component of a beneficial preschool experience. “It needs to be clear that we’re not pushing an academic agenda. The education of a 3-year-old is different to that of a 4, 5 or 6-year-old,” Fox maintained.

“We are not talking about rote learning. “Preschool is about helping children learn to get along with others, to be creative and collaborative problem solvers, to understand and talk about emotions and to boost their love of learning.”

What’s more, the long-term positive effects of quality early learning – for kids from all backgrounds, especially disadvantaged ones, have been proven, repeatedly. These include, Fox informed, an uplift in academic scores and higher rates of high school graduation. These factors  tend to lead to greater workforce participation, better health outcomes, and less justice and welfare expenditure.

Alongside vocal supporters the shadow minister for early childhood education & development Kate Ellis and South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill, Fox said “anyone who’s looked at the evidence” will back the idea.

The Mitchell Institute’s report is timely. It states that while Australia’s education gap is widening, our overall academic performance is either plateauing or dipping. The latter assertion is confirmed by the most recent crop of NAPLAN results.

The report additionally relayed a prior Mitchell Institute finding: almost a quarter of children arrive at school developmentally vulnerable, in multifaceted ways.

Next stop: COAG

In the report, the Mitchell Institute appeals to COAG – the Council of Australian Governments – to investigate how universal preschool for 3-year-olds could be implemented nationally.

Fox is optimistic that bureaucrats will embrace this challenge: “We have a good track record over the past five years of seeing almost all Australian 4-year-olds enrol in preschool, so we can do the same for 3-year-olds,” he said.

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