OPINION

All Australians deserve universal early childhood education

All Australians deserve universal early childhood education

Experts tell us that by the age of five, 90 per cent of a child's brain is developed.

Play-based learning in the early years - both at home and in an early learning and care setting - is crucial for intellectual and social development.

Which is why every child deserves universal, high-quality early childhood education and care regardless of where they live, what work their parents do or the size of their bank balance.

And it matters just as much in regional communities as it does in metro areas.

For every dollar Australia invests before children start school, we get $2 in benefits back.

A broad range of leaders, parents, workers, educators and community organisations from across all sides of politics are calling for universal access to early education and care across Australia.

Reform in this area has always been needed, but now action is needed more urgently than ever before.

In June, a national survey of 2200 families by The Parenthood found nearly two-thirds of households using childcare who had lost work would have a parent forced to reduce work further when full childcare fees returned.

In 68 per cent of those households, the parent who was going to stop or reduce work was a woman.

While it's too soon to gauge the full impact of the Morrison Government revoking fee-free child care in July, we know how squeezed family budgets are.

Almost half (42 per cent) the families we surveyed reported losing income since COVID-19 hit and anecdotal reports suggest up to a quarter of families have had to reduce the number of days their children attend early childhood education or care since fees returned.

New research from the Grattan Institute released last month showed spending an additional $5 billion a year on making child care more affordable would deliver an $11 billion a year boost to the economy by helping women back into the workforce.

The reality is we can create all the employment opportunities and flexible working arrangements in the world, but if parents cannot access affordable early education and care for their children, it's moot.

Investing more in early childhood education and care would support more women into paid work, also growing employment in a female-dominated industry.

As we make plans and invest in the nation's recovery from this pandemic, universal early childhood education is the most effective investment we can make.

Not only will it create a better future for children, parents and families but it will deliver for the economy and our communities.

Georgie Dent is executive director for The Parenthood, Australia's leading parent advocacy group.