By Kirra Grimes
SOUTH Gippsland kids are set to get an even better start in life with the introduction of government-funded three-year-old kindergarten next year.
Childcare centres across the region will be offering up to 15 hours of subsidised three-year-old kinder per week from 2020, with enrolments opening last Thursday, August 1.
Among them is Karmai Community Children’s Centre in Korumburra, which hosted a well-attended pre-enrolment information session last Wednesday night.
Parents heard from Karmai’s operational manager Sue Ritchie, who announced that the centre will offer 44 funded three-year-old kinder places in 2020, with the 15 hours spread across two or three sessions a week, depending on parents’ preferences.
Facilities in Poowong, Leongatha, Mirboo North, Fish Creek, Foster, Toora and Welshpool will also be offering the maximum 15 funded hours, while smaller facilities in Loch and Meeniyan will offer between five and eight hours.
South Gippsland Shire Council’s preschool field officer Michelle Gough also spoke at the information night, explaining the benefits of three-year-old kinder, in addition to four-year-old kinder.
Ms Gough said the new model would help turn around some “concerning” Australian Early Childhood Census (2018) data showing high levels of “developmental vulnerability” among preschool aged children in South Gippsland, and particularly those living in Korumburra.
“There’s significant evidence and research that backs up that two years of kinder are better than one,” Ms Gough said.
“And Australia is one of the only developed countries in the world that hasn’t been offering two [funded] years. So, we are behind, and it’s time to catch up.”
The high-quality play-based learning that Karmai and other South Gippsland centres will be offering under the new model will have long lasting benefits for cognitive, social and emotional outcomes, Ms Gough said.
Children experiencing vulnerability or disadvantage will benefit the most.
“If you haven’t got those underlying language and social skills, that has an impact on literacy and academic achievement later on,” she said.
“So, this is about giving every child every opportunity to succeed and ensuring they’re ready for school and set for life.”
After countless meetings and months of planning, Karmai’s staff and volunteer board of management are excited to be among the first in the state to be offering funded three-year-old kinder, and proud to have risen to the challenge of providing the maximum 15 hours.
The centre will soon advertise for another bachelor qualified early childhood educator to help cope with the additional demand, Sue said.
“It’s an amazing opportunity we have ahead of us in South Gippsland, and we know we’ve got a spotlight on us and how we roll this out.
“But we really wanted to embrace the initiative and we felt we had the capacity to do that,” she said.
South Gippsland was hand-picked to be one of the first six shires in Victoria to offer funded three-year-old kinder under education reforms announced by the Andrews Labor Government in October 2018.
The new model will be rolled out across the rest of the state over the next 10 years.
Enrolments for South Gippsland in 2020 are open at www.southgippsland.vic.gov.au/centralenrolment until September 30, 2019.