Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has announced kindergarten will be free across the state in 2021, a move activists say will “make a big difference” for parents and young children whose jobs and early education have been disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The new strategy will see free kindergarten programs for all 4-year-old and eligible 3-year-old children across the state, thanks to new subsidies to early childhood services made possible by a $169.6 million funding boost. There will also be lower frees for three-year-olds in unfunded, sessional kinder.
According to Andrews, around 100,000 families will benefit from the new initiative.
"The investment will not only make sure more kids are getting a great early childhood education, it’ll make it easier for parents — particularly women — to return to the workforce as we recover from this pandemic,” Andrews said in a statement. “This investment is dedicated to making the daily juggle of work, school and kinder just that little bit easier.”
A separate $81 million has been allocated to expand before- and after-school care across the state.
Excellent news! We all know that early childhood education has huge benefits for a child's social and emotional education.— AEU Victoria (@AEUVictoria) November 10, 2020
Free kinder has been a longstanding aim of our EC policy & we will continue to lobby government to see this extended past2021. https://t.co/n2oKfUJKGz
The pandemic has had a particularly damaging effect on women.
An October report on the gender-based impacts of COVID-19 by Equity Economics confirms the economic and social implications of the pandemic have disproportionately hit women, with Victorian women accounting for 61% of all job losses.
"The delay in returning to work for many women risks long term scarring from longer periods of unemployment,” the report reads. “This scarring effect has been shown to reduce lifetime earnings, which for women are already on average only two-thirds of men.”
A separate report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) shows the benefits of quality, free kindergarten for all are innumerable. Beyond assisting parents in returning to work, adequate access to early education supports children’s development and well-being, as well as future academic performance and adult earnings.
Australian children attend kindergarten at half the OECD average, according to the Age.
"High quality early childhood education and care have been shown to provide a wide range of benefits for individual children — especially the most disadvantaged,” the report reads. “These benefits include supporting social and emotional well-being, lowering risks of school dropout and even contributing to higher learning and employment outcomes later in life.”
The report adds: “Children’s participation in early childhood education and care also offers greater opportunities for mothers and other caregivers to participate in the workforce, increasing household earnings and breaking stubborn cycles of intergenerational poverty.”
Kinders were forced to close between early August and October in Victoria due to its out-of-control second COVID-19 wave.
Children of permitted workers and those deemed vulnerable were given exceptions.