After decades of campaigning by AEU members and early childhood advocates, the Victorian and NSW governments have made significant announcements on early childhood education. This means Victorian children will be able to access 15 hours of three-year-old preschool and 30 hours of four-year-old preschool per week, to be rolled out over the next decade. This is a significant transformation of our education system, responding to unequivocal evidence of the benefits of universal access to early years learning.
In Victoria, we are already in the fourth year of rolling out and scaling up three-year-old kindergarten with a $5 billion dollar investment from the Andrews government, so that all children have access to two years of high-quality early years education.
The new ‘pre-prep’ program will be rolled out from 2025 as part of a $9 billion overhaul of early childhood education over the next decade. This includes making kinder free for all three- and four-year-olds from 2023, saving families up to $2,500 a child each year.
The AEU looks forward to working with the state government on these initiatives, ensuring the teaching profession is appropriately consulted and supported in the rollout of the new and expanded programs. We will also be calling on the Andrews government to make the necessary investment, such as scholarships and guaranteed employment, to attract and develop the many thousands of additional qualified teachers and educators required.
While we celebrate this significant announcement by the Victorian government, real inequities remain for children around the country. Currently, access to either one or two years of funded kinder depends on where a child lives, or their family’s employment status. The Victorian, NSW and ACT state governments have invested in two years of kindergarten, but it is important that the Commonwealth also makes this investment, so that every Australian child benefits. Preschool has become a basic human right – and providing universal access to two years of funded kinder programs delivered by a highly qualified and well-supported workforce is an achievable and desirable policy goal for our nation.
The incoming federal Albanese government has expressed a commitment to making gender pay equity an objective of the Fair Work Act. The AEU would like to see this expedited to minimise the loss of qualified educators and teachers in the early childhood sector. A well-supported and professionally paid workforce is key to achieving stability in the sector and delivering the best early learning and development outcomes for all children.
We look forward to working with the Albanese government to help achieve these important goals. Big reform requires hard work; change management is important, and consultation is key. But I am confident that our members are ready, willing and able to use this opportune moment to be agents of change.