Lack of jobs setback for school-starters
A LACK of job opportunities in Maryborough and a need for funding for the region's early childhood learning centres is contributing to worryingly poor readiness for school among the region's young children compared with school-starters throughout the rest of Queensland.
Director of Goodstart Early Learning, Maryborough, Tiffany D'Arcy, said a five-point plan had been sent to the major political parties this week petitioning for urgent and committed funding for an "undervalued" early childhood learning sector.
"It's a significant area that's being undervalued. I don't think it's even been mentioned in anyone's election campaign, so we definitely want to put it on their agenda," Ms D'Arcy said.
"I don't think it's on the forefront of anyone's minds, and it should be because it's not being recognised as a significant need in our areas.
"I'm not sure if the importance of the first five years and starting school prepared is being understood."
Ms D'Arcy said the Maryborough region was not a privileged area and many children did not have access to quality early childhood education and learning programs.
"These children are starting school when they're not ready to learn. They're going to go through the system without getting the help they need, and they could have had it earlier in life," she said.
"It's a huge decision in this area whether people can afford early childhood learning or not."
Ms D'Arcy said the most recent Australian Early Development Census statistics for the area (from 2015) showed that 13.9 per cent of children were developmentally vulnerable for their physical health and well-being; 9.1 per cent were developmentally vulnerable in the area of growth and fine motor skills (an increase from 8.3 per cent in 2012).
She said 17.3 per cent of children were develop- mentally vulnerable in their physical readiness for school.
"This is an alarming increase from 4.9 per cent in 2012 and includes elements such as coming unprepared for school by being dressed inappropriately, coming to school late, hungry and/or tired," she said.
The five-point plan that Goodstart Early Learning Maryborough is promoting and has sent to local politicians is: 1. A long-term commitment to at least maintain the current levels of funding for universal access to kindergarten programs in the year before school; 2. Extended kindergarten funding for play-based programs supporting three-year-olds; 3. Better support for disadvantaged children, especially those in regional and remote areas and from aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities; 4. Improved quality of early education and care through workforce development initiatives; and 5. A whole government Early Years Learning Strategy to ensure no children fall through the gaps.
Ms D'Arcy said the Maryborough centre, which in July this year was recognised as an EChO (Enhancing children's Outcomes) centre, was promoting a vision to "increase children's engagement in learning and development-enhancing activities and enhance parenting by providing high- quality, inclusive and responsive early childhood services with a focus on social and emotional development and communication".
Ms D'Arcy said some children were disadvantaged because there were not many job opportunities in the area, meaning families could not afford the cost of sending their children to early childhood learning centres.
"We are worried for the children who can't access the centres. We really would like to have something across Queensland where every child gets the same funding and support to attend a kindergarten centre."