Early start, long-term benefit

Every now and again the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) puts out a review of what we know about early childhood.

It’s rather like a progress report of how the 35 OECD countries (and a number of partner countries) are performing coupled with a relatively conservative summary of the research evidence.

Up and running: The latest OECD report stresses the social advantages of early educational engagement.

Up and running: The latest OECD report stresses the social advantages of early educational engagement.

For the first time the report accesses PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) data and the analyses show that children who have at least two years of early childhood education achieved better PISA scores than other children at 15 years of age – a result that remained statistically significant across the 57 countries with available data, even when factors such as student and school socio-economic status were taken into account.

However, the evidence also shows that the benefits of early education are not just limited to school (academic) performance. Benefits are also shown in improved health and wellbeing outcomes for children and in maternal employment.

Accessible, high quality and affordable early education is clearly linked to increases in maternal employment. For example, in Denmark, Luxenbourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia and Switzerland over 70% of women aged 15 to 64 years with a child under three are employed, and these countries all have the highest rates of enrolment in formal early education for younger children.

Given the benefits of early education it is not surprising that governments have increased public investment and, in many countries, subsidised fees. It is not uncommon for public funding to be devolved to local authorities, making the early childhood sector the most diverse (in terms of funding) of all the education sectors.

On average across the OECD only 34% of public funds go directly into early education from central governments despite between 69% - 84% of early education supported by public funds arriving through a range of different routes.

However it is worth noting that Australia spends a smaller percentage of GDP on pre-primary education than most other OECD countries. 

On average, early childhood educators across the OECD earn 74% of the average salary of a school teacher.

The report calls for improvements not only in educator salaries but in working conditions across the early childhood sector.

We are so lucky in Armidale to have a range of really good quality services supported by dedicated educators who work hard to deliver really good quality learning opportunities for our young children. It’s time to give them all a pat on the back and say thank you.