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strengths, culture and language and help
develop the social and cognitive under-
standings, attitudes and skills needed for
early learning at school.
Teachers have long said that children who
attend preschool adjust better to school
than those who don't. Early learning
provides the foundation for later learning.
Good early learning programs are 'child
centred' to meet children's social, physical
and intellectual development needs. They
prepare them for learning opportunities in
the school context. Whether children are
in a traditional preschool or more inte-
grated 'early learning' context, whether
programs are Montessori, Reggio, Steiner
or Vygotskian inspired, good programs
provide rich environments and experiences.
They focus on developing children's social
and interpersonal skills, language and lit-
eracy competence, thinking skills, learning
readiness (self-regulatory) skills, self-help
skills, self esteem and health and physical
Neal Maxwell, Principal of Humpty Doo
Catholic Primary school with a 44-place
early learning centre says that the benefits
of the centre are 'immense' and it offers
parents 'choice from the word go'. The
centre, staff, children and families are
part of the school. Children share school
facilities such as the library and computer
labs and participate in school events. This
familiarity makes the transition to school
smooth and successful, he says.
Where to next?
The change of federal government provides
a unique opportunity to reassess the poli-
cies and practices that have driven early
childhood provision in the last decade or
so. In some areas, such as remote and very
remote communities, the need for revision-
ing, rebuilding and remediating is urgent.
Federal Labor has positioned early child-
hood education and care as a core plank in
its social and economic reform initiatives,
so reassessment of policies and practice is
critical. The sector is ripe for real choice
for parents and quality for children.
The commitment to 15 hours a week of
pre-school education for four year olds
and quality early childhood services to the
most disadvantaged Australian children in
remote and very remote communities has
been welcomed at all levels. But making
this a reality is no easy task. In remote
and very remote communities there first
needs to be construction of suitable edu-
cational premises and housing for staff.
Finding and/or training enough early child-
hood teachers and providing incentives
for them to work in needy communities
will be a serious challenge.
Most important in reassessing policy and
practice in the early childhood sector is
the need for equity of outcomes, acknow-
ledging and respecting what families and
communities want, and embracing what
evidence and practice says about what
works. In this review and rebuilding pro-
cess there is a need to embrace diversity
and achieve better national consistency in
terms of outcomes. Getting the balance
right isn't easy. Different approaches
work in different contexts and for dif-
It is not yet clear how the promised 15
hours of preschool for all children will be
offered and funded. But it is clear that the
government is consulting widely to come
up with a workable model that capitalises
on the strengths and diversity of existing
provision and builds capacity where it
doesn't yet exist. It is most important to
provide equitably so that all children
benefit from early learning opportunities.
With the diversity of Australian commu-
nities and the variations in existing provi-
sion this is no easy task. There is certainly
no one-size-fits all model that can apply
to all situations or communities. But there
are lots of success stories to build on.
Professor Elliott is widely recognised for her
leadership, research, development and policy
work in early childhood care and education.
She has particular expertise in young children's
development, learning and wellbeing, early
literacy pedagogies and curricula and early
education policy and strategy, especially for
vulnerable communities and children at risk.
Prior to her current appointment she was
Director of the Early Childhood Research
Program at the Australian Council for
1 For a more detailed overview of this
evidence see Elliott, A. (2006), 'Early child-
hood education. Pathways to quality and
equity', Australian Education Review, No
50. A further useful reference is Hill, E.,
Pocock, B. & Elliott, A. (2007), Kids count.
Better early childhood education and
care for Australia, Sydney: University of
Most important in reassessing policy and
practice in the early childhood sector is the
need for equity of outcomes, acknowledging
and respecting what families and communities
want, and embracing what evidence and
practice says about what works.
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