PM’s shame: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander preschool enrolments fall

12 February 2020

The lack of commitment by the Morrison Government to address the serious issues of inequality apparent between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and other Australians has been highlighted yet again by today’s Closing the Gap report.

The most concerning example of this lack of commitment is the drop in the Early Childhood Education (ECE) enrolment target. The target of having 95% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander four-year-old children enrolled in ECE by 2025 was achieved in 2017, yet fell to only 86.4% in 2018. This compares with the 91.3% attendance rate for other children.

Australian Education Union Federal President Correna Haythorpe said that education has a transformative effect in children’s lives by addressing inequality. She said that falling Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ECE enrolment rates were of particular concern, as preschool was such a fundamental foundation for future achievement.

“We know that when Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children attend high quality preschool and early childhood education programs, they are more likely to thrive at school and later on life,” Ms Haythorpe said.

“This regression against the ECE enrolment target is particularly concerning because of the impacts lack of access to and attendance in high quality ECE programs will have on people’s lives well in to the future.”

“The skills and abilities children develop in preschool lead to stronger academic performance through school, a greater likelihood of undertaking further education.”

“Preschool also improves cognitive, social and emotional outcomes, and is important in providing a strong foundation for learning,” Ms Haythorpe said.

Ms Haythorpe said that it was essential that the Morrison Government commit to guaranteeing ongoing funding for Universal Access to preschool for all three- and four-year-old children. My Haythorpe said that Australia was only one of eleven countries in the world that did not fund two years of ECE for children in the years before school.

“The Morrison Government’s significant under-investment and lack of strategic direction in ECE will impact Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children the most,” Ms Haythorpe said.

“The 2020 Closing the Gap report to Parliament highlights almost a decade of Federal Coalition Government apathy and failure in the area of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander policy. Four of the original seven targets expired in 2018 - and five of those targets are not on track.”

‘Programs initiated by this government, such as the failed Remote School Attendance Strategy have had no impact on school attendance,” Ms Haythorpe said.

“Programs like the Vocational Education Training and Employment Centres have had no impact in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employment. Further, the Morrison Government’s bilateral school funding agreements, which cap its contribution to public school funding to the states and territories, have ensured continued under-resourcing in areas that need it most.”

“Whilst we recognise Minister Wyatt’s commitment to shaping a new approach to engaging with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations through the Closing the Gap Refresh process, we call on the Minister to work closely with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander education leaders, communities and their representative bodies in the education sector, to ensure the process is informed by their expertise,” Ms Haythorpe said.