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    Jo Martin.

Early learning leaders await details on childcare

By Michael Scalzo

Early learning leaders in the Wimmera have welcomed a $9-billion investment for childcare and kindergarten, but emphasise detail is critical to understanding its potential in the region. 

They said consultation remained integral to the program’s rollout in the Wimmera and Southern Mallee. 

The 10-year State Government investment, in partnership with a similar New South Wales government investment, aims to drastically overhaul early-childhood learning by making kinder free for all Victorian children and developing a new statewide, 30-hour pre-prep kindergarten program for four-year-olds.  



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The reforms include construction of 50 new government-operated childcare centres across the state and establishment of a Victorian Pre-Prep Taskforce of experts, staff, council, government and unions to design the new four-year-old curriculum.

Jo Martin, executive officer of Wimmera Development Association’s early-years initiative, By Five, said she was optimistic about the opportunities the initiative would offer Wimmera children and families.

“It puts children and family’s needs back on the agenda and gets the ball rolling,” she said.

“It is a huge investment and a huge jump in understanding how important pre-prep learning is for children’s development. But I suppose the devil is in the detail. 

“It will be about reaching every child in Victoria and making sure rural and remote communities have access to equitable reform – and not just access, but access to quality services as well.”

Mrs Martin said the reforms would highlight existing challenges across the region. 

“It is a huge logistical challenge with the workforce already under strain. A challenge that isn’t insurmountable but requires a very heavy investment in developing educators among the region,” she said.

Emerge Early Years Service executive officer Pauline Butler said while free kinder was a ‘fabulous’ announcement that would ease financial pressure for Wimmera families, she would also wait for further information before assessing its wider impact.

“It will put enormous pressure on staffing and what we could, or couldn’t, offer now and into the future,” she said.

“Consultation is the key when it comes to changes like this. We are yet to speak to our educators, but once we have all the details, we will consult with our staff about its full impact.” 

Staffing concern

Ms Butler said more early-learning infrastructure across the region was key to any benefits the announcement would offer educators and families.

“The devil is in the detail – details and timelines about the new pre-prep year formula. Whether it is a build-up or a rollout, for example,” she said.

“At the moment, in our area, we don’t have the physical infrastructure or the staff to run three-year-old kinder and a full-time, four-year-old program for every family. 

“Staffing is definitely a major area of concern.” 

In terms of children, Mrs Martin said By Five was particularly interested in the construction of 50 new government childcare centres. 

She said there were opportunities to design them with regional specificities in mind.

“I would like to see two or three here in the Wimmera and southern Mallee. There are long childcare waiting lists, in excess of more than 150 kids in Horsham, and there are other communities in the region that don’t have access to any childcare,” she said.

“The model and way forward for childcare in the region can be tailored for the community and I am looking forward to discussions about how we can make this investment fit for us.

“I am not sure how it will look, but there are opportunities for nuance to meet the needs of children and families in ways that suit Wimmera and southern Mallee people.”

Ms Butler said reducing childcare waiting lists in Horsham was critical.

“Horsham is one place that stands out at the moment,” she said.

“We have an overwhelming waiting list for services in the area, so Horsham would certainly be the standout for additional government-run childcare centres.”

The State Government said a lack of access to childcare and early-learning had inhibited about 26,000 women from participating fully in the workforce, resulting in $1.5 billion in lost-earnings, annually, across the state.

State Early Education Minister Ingrid Stitt said early learning had a ‘profound’ impact on a child’s development and 30 hours of kindergarten would give children ‘the best start’ in life.

State Minister for Women Gabrielle Williams said current childcare systems were not working for women.

“In fact, they are holding women back,” she said.

“Affordable and accessible childcare is vital to giving women more options – meaning they have more economic power and driving gender equality across every aspect of work and life.”

The entire June 22, 2022 edition of The Weekly Advertiser is available online. READ IT HERE!