Early learning begins from the moment your baby is born. And the quality of early learning in the first few years (from infancy to age four) can have a huge impact on your child’s life and health outcomes.
The Institute of Health and Nursing Australia suggests that at least 50 per cent of a person’s potential intelligence is already in place by the age of four. Further research shows that play-based preschool programs, delivered by qualified early childhood educators, improve a child’s learning and development outcomes and are particularly important for children from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Hon. Professor Bridie Raban, from the Melbourne Graduate School of Education, says that later educational and social success is predicted by the quality of learning in the early years.
She also puts forward that better school outcomes, better jobs, more money, and better health are just some of the impacts that early learning has on life outcomes.
The Australian Early Development Census corroborates this, reporting that “evidence tells us that a person’s life successes, health and emotional wellbeing have their roots in early childhood. We know that if we get it right in the early years, we can expect to see children thrive throughout school and their adult lives.”
This is due in part to the brain being in continuous development throughout childhood, growing and re-wiring as it constantly learns. The brain is the only organ that is not fully formed at birth. In the early years, trillions of connections between brain cells are being made as learning occurs.
Investment in early learning
Early intervention is more cost effective, and efficient, than trying to make up a shortfall in later years of education. Strong foundations boost the workforce, reduce welfare reliance and ensure a return on investment for the economy in general.
Raban continues, “it has been said that investing in early childhood education and care (ECEC) provides a strong return, up to two to four times the cost, and substantially more when programs are focused on families with children who are experiencing vulnerability.”
What’s interesting to note, as Raban highlights, is the quality of adult-child engagements is a driver of child development.
Raban says, “the evidence is clear that effective teaching, by educators who can skillfully combine explicit teaching of skills and concepts with sensitive and warm interactions, is at the core of quality early education. Quality early education is about rich interactions.”
National Quality Standard
Here in Australia, there is a National Quality Standard rubric that governs and grades ECEC to ensure a quality education for all children in the country. It benchmarks and measures in the following areas:
- Educational program and practice
- Children’s health and safety
- Physical environment
- Staffing arrangements
- Relationships with children
- Collaborative partnerships with families and communities
- Governance and leadership.
ECEC centres are assessed and rated against each of these areas. The framework provides an important basis for those delivering education and learning opportunities to young children and helps set an equal starting point for kids around Australia.
Health and happiness
The early years are a period of great opportunity, but also of vulnerability to negative influences.
As UNICEF notes, many children do not receive adequate nutrition, care and opportunities to learn. Their early disadvantage seriously impacts their development.
Good nutrition and health, and consistent loving care and encouragement help children to do better at school, be healthier, have higher earnings and participate more in society.
Any effort to improve early childhood development is an investment, not a cost.