Five years ago, if you had spoken to an early childhood member, they would have said it was a pipe dream for kindergarten to be funded for two years, let alone be free. Not to mention a doubling in funded hours for four-year-olds!
Yet, we can now celebrate that, as of 31 January, our youngest Victorians and their families have access to free kindergarten for every three and four-year-old child who attends a funded preschool program.
The AEU’s policy position for decades has been for state and federal governments to fund universal access to two years of kindergarten – and, after many years of campaigning, this is now a reality. A huge thanks to AEU members, families and allies who tenaciously campaigned on this issue.
We now need to see this become a reality for all three and four-year-old children across the country – and to that end, we encourage AEU members to participate in the national Preschool Funding Now campaign.
Big reform comes with big challenges and opportunities, and the AEU will work to ensure ample opportunities for members to be consulted.
Free public education in the earliest years is an important step towards addressing inequality. This reform provides the opportunity for every child to access high-quality early years education, ensuring that no child misses out and all children get access to the same opportunities, education and care.
The increase of four-year-old kindergarten to 30 hours a week gives both children and educators the gift of time. Research shows that we increase the educational outcomes for all children, and address educational disadvantage for vulnerable children, when we provide high-quality pedagogical and educational leaders whose purpose is shared with families, when there is intentional teaching for both education and care, and when there is high-level understanding of the curriculum and how children learn.
Big reform comes with big challenges and opportunities, and the AEU will work to ensure that ample opportunities are provided for members to be consulted about all areas of the reform agenda with state government, the Department of Education and employers. We will be holding a forum in Term 2 with Minister for Early Childhood and Pre-Prep Ingrid Stitt, to hear directly from members.
The commencement of three and four-year-old kinder is a monumental investment by the Andrews government – and it is thanks to the tireless advocacy and campaigning by AEU members and supporters of early childhood education that we made this vision a reality.
Together, we are ensuring our littlest Victorian citizens get the best start in life. It is about social justice, equity and quality early years education.