Media release: Australian early childhood settings offer strong emotional support, but academic learning left behind

29 August 2013

A major study of Australian early childhood education and care has found that, while children were offered good emotional support and classroom organisation was high, the amount of teaching within play programs needs to increase.

E4Kids observed over 250 settings in Victoria and Queensland covering kindergarten, long day care and family day care. While Australian kindergarten programs were found to be more academically rigorous than those in the UK and USA, Chief Investigator Professor Collette Tayler said the observed quality of instruction (teaching) was still low.

“Importantly, this is not a criticism of service providers but rather demonstrates the challenge we face in moving to a system with high quality learning support for all children,” she said.

“In the first few years of life brain development is intense - hundreds of neural connections are formed every second,” she said. “Disparities in the level of vocabulary are already apparent by age three. Attainment gaps will grow unless language and cognitive development is supported.”

The study also found that kindergarten programs offered the highest quality of adult-child interaction.

“This is likely because kindergarten programs are delivered by degree qualified teachers, but could also relate to offering focused education programs within specified hours, curriculum content and the higher age on average of children within these settings,” explained Professor Tayler.

“The National Early Years Learning Framework and its commitment to increased quality standards may be partly responsible Australian kindergartens’ higher academic performance,” said Professor Tayler. “Yet there is room for improvement, especially in language and concept development.”

Professor Tayler called on governments to make access for children from disadvantaged backgrounds and improvement in the quality of early educational programs a priority.

“The biggest national issue we face in early childhood education and care provision is a lack of access for young children who need it the most,” she said. “When disadvantaged children start school behind their peers, it is very difficult for them to catch up.

“We need to offer high quality early childhood education to children from an early age. The National Quality Framework encourages this through the introduction of an educational concept and intentional teaching in play-based environments, but there is still more to be done,” she said.

E4Kids is led by the University of Melbourne’s Graduate School of Education and Queensland University of Technology, with the Victorian, Queensland and Commonwealth Governments.