The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) has released a literature review on the impact of early childhood education and care on learning and development.
The review assesses the quality and quantity of Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) in Australia and its short and long-term benefits to both mainstream and disadvantaged populations, including the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community.
The report found that children who participated in high-quality ECEC had better academic performances and social interaction and were better behaved in their early school years compared to their peers. The report also found that high-quality early interventions also helped children prepare for transition into formal schooling.
Significantly, the report found that “children who are socially disadvantaged show the most benefit” from the effects of high-quality ECEC, thus ECEC “has great potential to close academic performance and attainment gaps between children from different socioeconomic backgrounds”. High-quality ECEC was found to provide not only short-term benefits, but also longer-term improvements in vulnerabilities such as educational attainment, mental health and relationship issues. Conversely, poor-quality ECEC was found to have potentially detrimental effects on language, cognitive development and social behaviour.
The effects of the duration and intensity of ECEC were also examined in the review. The report shows a stable ECEC schedule and regular attendance is linked to better school outcomes and improved concentration in school. The review notes that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children have low and irregular levels of attendance at ECEC, particularly in the first three years of life, with around 21% of Indigenous children aged 0-3 attended formal child care compared to 38% of all children.
Other findings on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children’s attendance at ECEC found that there were gender differences in use of services: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families with female children had a very high usage rate for formal child care, well above the Australian average, while the opposite was true for informal arrangements.
Some of the barriers to accessing ECEC services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children identified in the report include lack of transport, financial disadvantage, living in remote areas and language barriers. While efforts to increase access to ECEC for all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children under Closing the Gap have made great improvements (the access rate rising from 55% in 2008 to 85% in 2015), retention and regular attendance are still significant issues.
The review emphasises that it is vital to provide culturally safe and appropriate services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families, who tend to avoid early intervention learning programs that fail to reflect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander values, culture and knowledge.
This finding on the link between access to high-quality ECEC and school attendance should be of particular relevance to federal policymakers, as school attendance and education outcomes is one of the three focal points under the federal government’s efforts to close the gap, as reflected in the Prime Minister’s 2015 Closing the Gap report. The evidence provided in the report also supports many of SNAICC’s core advocacy, resource development and training activities.
Visit the AIHW website for further information and to download the full report.