By Jamie Salter
Free kinder, pre-prep programs and more childcare is set to be delivered as part of a massive Victorian Government overhaul of early childhood education.
Over the next 10 years, $9 billion will be invested to support women to return to the workforce and save families money.
The Best Start, Best Life program will be expanded to make kinder free for all three and four year olds by 2023, saving families up to $2,500 per child every year.
A new year of Pre-Prep for 4-year-olds will also be delivered over the next decade.
Four-Year-Old Kinder will transition to Pre-Prep – increasing to a universal 30-hour a week program of play-based learning.
Pre-Prep will be delivered through kinders and long day care centres to give four-year-old kids the opportunity to socialise and learn through play.
Lack of access to childcare takes almost 26,600 women entirely out of the workforce in Victoria and costs the economy $1.5 billion per year in lost earnings.
To tackle a shortage of childcare availability, 50 government operated childcare centres will be established across the state.
The centres will make it easier for families to access childcare, ensuring they don’t need to travel outside of their suburb and add to their daily commute to enrol their children.
From 2025, the centres will open in areas with the greatest unmet demand for childcare.
Early childhood consultant Tamika Hicks said the announcement was welcomed not only by families but by the sector.
“We know that there is an overwhelming amount of data and evidence that shows the benefits of two years of kindergarten, and the flow on effects not only short term but long term right through into adulthood,” Ms Hicks said.
“Families welcome the announcement, especially those who struggle to make ends meet with rising costs of child care fees, and those unable to afford sending their child to child care or kinder altogether.
“What State and Federal Government need to work on now is the workforce crisis. The problem is we need to retain and attract a quality workforce that is paid accordingly.”
Premier Daniel Andrews said the reforms were about investing in women and setting up kids for the future.
“These are big changes, but they just make sense – giving our kids the very best start in life and delivering early education and care that actually works for families,” Premier Andrews said.
Early Childhood Minister Ingrid Stitt said the overhaul will support families struggling with the cost of living.
“Early education has the most profound impact on a child’s development and moving to 30 hours of play-based learning when they’re four will give our littlest Victorians the best start, so they get the best opportunities in life,” Ms Stitt said.