YESTERDAY it was the Leongatha Children’s Centre and today it will be Karmai Community Children’s Centre at Korumburra, along with the 11 kinders across the South Gippsland Shire which will be welcoming children for the first time in Australia to a funded, three-year-old kinder program.
And on hand to welcome the “most significant reform” in early childhood education in the nation’s history was State Education Minister James Merlino.
Mr Merlino thanked Paula Holt and her team at the Leongatha Children’s Centre and also the South Gippsland Shire for hosting Monday’s announcement which he shared with Member for Eastern Victoria Harriet Shing.
“This is an historic day, an Australian first. It’s day one of universal funded three-year-old kinder, happening right here in South Gippsland and across five other rural and regional Victorian local government areas,” Mr Merlino said after sharing a round of play/learning activities with some of the children involved.
“This is the most significant reform in early childhood education in the history of our nation. This is incredibly exciting.
“And why it’s so important is that between 85% and 90% of the child’s brain development occurs between zero and five. Their emotional, their social, their problem-solving skills are developed in their early years and put them in great stead for the rest of their lives.
“That’s why we know, all the evidence shows that two years of early childhood education is better than one.”
It was already a practice adopted by many advanced countries overseas and the Andrews Government was now rolling it out as quickly as possible.
He said six local government areas were piloting the program this year, South Gippsland being the only one in Gippsland, and with 15 to follow next year, including East Gippsland. By the end of 2022 a total of 21 local government areas would be offering up to 15 hours of universal funded three-year-old kinder and the rest of the state, up to five hours.
“By the end of the reform in 2029, we’ll have 15 hours of universal three-year-old kinder for children right across the state.”
Asked why the government started in rural areas first and why they didn’t just introduce it statewide, Mr Merlino said rural and regional areas were most in need, were likely to have strong uptake and extra capacity and there would need to be an additional 6000 teachers and staff members recruited, as well as 1000 kinders built or expanded in Victoria over the next decade to accommodate the expansion.
He said the take-up by parents and children in the pilot areas was “incredibly encouraging” noting that less than one-in-three children before the change had access to three-year-old kinder but now more than 80 per cent had embraced the reform.
“In South Gippsland’s case the number of children accessing funded three-year-old kinder is 86 per cent which is more than the state average for four-year-old kinder.”
“We’re really excited about today’s development. It’s fantastic for the children of South Gippsland for us to be able to offer two years of funded kindergarten will really mean those children are ready to go at Primary School,” Ms Holt said of Monday’s launch.
“Today we’ve got 22 children coming in but overall for the week, we’ll have 58 in the three-year-old funded pre-school.”
Mr Merlino said the initiative was part of the State Government’s almost $5 billion, decade-long reform to make two years of funded universal kindergarten programs available for all children across the state, an Australian-first.
At Karmai in Korumburra, all 60 children have been accommodated in the centre’s 15-hour programs and the same goes for the region’s other 11 pre-school centres.