Early Childhood Education – Motion

You can watch the video here.

What a difficult act to follow. The member for Mount Waverley is always such a delight to listen to—the insights that he brings to this house, the popular culture references. I must admit I do turn the volume up if I am not in the chamber to hear the words of the member for Mount Waverley. He has not disappointed once again tonight.

Like the member for Mount Waverley, I am so pleased to speak on this motion that is before the house today. Early education is an issue that is important to so many families in Wendouree, and the rollout of the Andrews Labor government’s landmark reforms that will see $5 billion invested over the next decade to deliver 15 hours of three-year-old kinder has been very well received within my community.

The evidence is in and the evidence is clear: two years are better than one when it comes to early learning. Our kindergartens are not only places where children learn but where they create, where they innovate and where they play. They are a vital part of our community. Therefore it is crucial that we invest in our educators, our kinder programs, our infrastructure, to support them. How children learn is changing because knowledge is changing faster for them than any other generation in history. It has never been more important to invest in and develop a culture of curiosity and creative thinking. That is why we are revolutionising early learning by providing three-year-old kinder for every Victorian child.

I would really and sincerely like to thank the mover of this motion, the Parliamentary Secretary for Early Childhood Education, the member for Carrum, for her commitment to this portfolio and commend her for her excellent contribution to this debate but more importantly for the landmark work she is doing in the field of early education. The introduction of 15 hours of three-year-old kinder is about ensuring that our youngest Victorians get the very best start in life. It will be transformative in both the short term and the longer term for our children and for our state. I am proud to be a part of a government that is again implementing transformative social policy for Victoria.

Kinders hold a special place in the hearts of many families, and it was lovely to hear the member for Mount Waverley talk about how important being a kinder parent was to him and watching his children grow. They are where our children make their first friends. They learn to cut with scissors, they learn to sing new songs and play new games. They are often exposed to the different cultures of their friends and educators. They do the sensory and messy play that many parents cannot or will not do at home. They learn invaluable social skills as well as literacy and communication skills through play. They experience creativity, technology and maths. They cement the skills that they need for school. In fact children learn more quickly in the first five years of their life than at any other time. As a former schoolteacher I know first hand that attending three-year-old and four-year-old kindergarten is so important to a child’s development because 90 per cent of brain development occurs before a child turns five. These early years are also crucial for early intervention for children with disabilities and vulnerable children. By giving children that additional year at kinder we are providing them with a safety net and setting them up for future success.

I wish to commend the Minister for Education, our Deputy Premier, for his exceptional leadership through the coronavirus and his hardworking advisers in his ministerial office, including Chris, Sinead, Liam and Alice. As well as impacting on students at schools, TAFEs and universities across Victoria, the coronavirus also impacted on our littlest learners who attend kindergarten. That is why I am very proud that the Andrews Labor government announced $45 million in additional funding to provide support for sessional kindergarten providers. This funding was to provide support in light of numbers declining significantly as more and more parents chose to keep their children at home at the commencement of the coronavirus pandemic. The funding of approximately $485 per child enrolled for term 2 was significant as it allowed providers to continue teaching and caring for Victorian kids, importantly including the children of essential workers, such as our nurses, our cleaners, our supermarket and pharmacy employees, all for free during term 2. It also provided for vulnerable children to be able to continue their 15-hour kinder programs and interactions with early educators during the time of restrictions and lockdown for free.

I wish to thank the Eureka Community Kindergarten Association and all our early educators across Ballarat for the work they did during the coronavirus pandemic keeping our children safe and supporting them with their learning. I would also like to recognise the amount of work that has been done by our kinders to make sure that drop-offs and pick-ups are safe for parents, for carers and for children while maintaining social distancing. Your efforts are greatly appreciated.

Both our girls attended three-year-old kinder at Fidelity kinder in Ballarat Central. I would particularly like to thank the amazing early educators at Fidelity, Heather and Mary, and all the other educators who have had such a positive influence on the lives of our daughters. Kinders across Victoria are very, very special places. At Fidelity every child is valued and has the opportunity to learn, explore, make choices, cooperate, collaborate, investigate, negotiate and create meaning to the extent of their current knowledge and abilities. It is a safe place for children to learn, to make mistakes and to thrive as they grow an awareness about themselves and the world they live in. Three-year-old kinder was so beneficial for my children in developing early numeracy and literacy skills, encouraging a love of books and painting and in promoting their imagination and their role play as well as being a vital time to build confidence, relationships and a sense of self.

I believe that every child in Victoria should have access to quality three-year-old kinder for 15 hours per week and that no child should be left behind. The benefits of the early years education project for children do not just flow into the school years but well beyond, and we certainly heard from the Minister for Youth Justice, who has just walked in, about the prison population and the importance of providing kids with education and support. We have made a number of commitments in this space. Our commitment to early education requires a huge investment in local infrastructure and education and training for early educators. That is why we are investing $5 billion over 10 years. This will give all young children the chance to have access to a high-quality foundation to their education. It is not only investment in infrastructure and equipment but an investment in Victoria’s future. We know that early education is so important, and the evidence is in. Researchers are united in demonstrating that quality play-based learning is a powerful way to support children’s learning and development. The Australian Early Development Census shows us that the foundations of one’s success, health and emotional wellbeing can be traced back to early childhood.

Cost should be no barrier to accessing three-year-old kinder. All parents should have the same opportunity to give their children—our youngest students—the best start in life regardless of household income. This is an important issue of equality and of opportunity for all. This government has prioritised our youngest Victorians because we know that is where we can make a real difference. We are making Victoria the Education State. Not only are we looking after our youngest people but we are making sure that we undertake this policy reform in a strategic way by beginning with six regional local government areas before we start with another 15 local government areas. By 2022 children in my community will have access to 5 hours of subsidised kindergarten before it is fully rolled out in 2029.

It is very important that with more three-year-olds than ever attending kinder we have more early educators. That is why we are supporting our future early learning educators by adding the diploma of early childhood education and care, and the certificate III in early childhood education and care to free TAFE. This will remove the financial barriers for people who wish to train or retrain. We are also providing financial support in the form of scholarships and employment incentives for people looking for a rewarding career in the early childhood sector. I encourage anyone who would like to be an early educator to look into this.

In conclusion, once again we are putting words into action across Victoria. Three-year-old kinder will make a real difference to the lives of local kids thanks to amazing educators. Victoria is the Education State and the Andrews Labor government is delivering for all Victorians, including our littlest ones, with kinder, and they will continue to reap the benefits of our record investment into schools as they continue their education journey. With the $5 billion investment we are making over the next decade I am sure that Victorian kids will have a fantastic future. I commend this motion to the house.