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News - World Headlines

Recognising the Value of Early Childhood Education: It Really is Brain Science



Canberra, May 2012 - If Australia is to capitalise on the Asian Century truly then "quality education" will be key.

This was the message from Treasurer Wayne Swan who added that it was Australian knowledge base and service skills that would bring the export dollars flooding in from neighbour states once China and India had built enough skyscrapers, roads, bridges and railways to slow demand for iron ore and coal.

State and federal Governments crow about the value of quality education but it's hard to remember a single policy that has appreciably lifted standards. Vast sums of cash have been hurled at schools and yet according to the OECD country comparison tables, Australia lags behind on literacy and numeracy measures.

The prevailing logic assumed that children at five or six years old had acquired enough independence to leave home and be educated by others. This created the entirely unscientific foundation for modern education policy which makes school attendance compulsory for those aged 5-15 or 17.

Over the past decade, ground breaking neurological research has revealed the folly of this approach. Science tells us that 80 per cent of brain development occurs before a child is three years old. By the age of four, 92 per cent of the brain is formed. Neuroscience can now tell us that the experiences and environment in the first years of life affect the way the brain develops.

Labor's Jenny Macklin in opposition committed to a national survey to assess the development of children across the country as they entered their first year of school. In 2009, the Government followed through with an assessment of more than 260,000 children, representing 97.5 per cent of all those entering kindergarten/prep. The results of the Australian Early Development Index (AEDI) shocked and disturbed those in Government and beyond - around one in four children were entering primary school with poor general knowledge, physical health and mental wellbeing, low emotional maturity, and vulnerable in language, cognitive or communications skills.

Reacting to that first AEDI Index, the federal and state governments in partnership signed an agreement to offer "universal access to early childhood education by 2013" for all four-year-olds. The education promised is to be provided by a four-year university qualified early childhood teacher for 15 hours a week, 40 weeks a year.

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