EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION
Early childhood education in Australia encompasses both the preschool sector, and the skills development of children aged from 6 months to 3-4 years. A number of studies at the domestic and international level have noted the lower educational assets of older children who did not participate in some formal early childhood program. Research also indicates that all children are at the peak of their learning potential at ages 1-3 years. This has prompted various educational providers to introduce formal programs to maximise the uptake of basic skills in the 1-3 years age cohort. Such programs aimed at raising children's readiness for school, are generally available in child care or family day care centres.
Preschool generally refers to education that is provided for children from 3 years of age to school starting age. In June 2005, according to the triennial Child Care Survey, conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), 62% of 4 year olds attended preschool (graph 10.1).
The responsibility for providing preschool education rests with individual states and territories. Preschools may be operated by government, community organisations or the private sector. They are largely sessional and normally only operational during school terms. Preschool programs may also be provided in long-day child care centres.
The age at which children may attend preschool varies across jurisdictions, reflecting the different school commencement ages. The 2002 and 2005 Child Care Surveys showed 62% of preschoolers were aged 4 years at the time of the surveys.
INDIGENOUS PRESCHOOL STUDENTS
The National Preschool Census (NPC), is conducted annually for the Australian Government Department of Education, Science and Training. The scope of the NPC is all 3-5 year olds attending preschools which are registered providers and have a preschool educational program. The NPC provides a basis for the allocation of Australian Government funding to preschools in which Indigenous students are enrolled.
In 2005, 9,019 Indigenous children were enrolled in government and non-government preschools, representing 4% of total preschool enrolments. Of these enrolments 31% were in New South Wales. Between 2004 and 2005, the number of Indigenous children enrolled in preschools decreased slightly, while non-Indigenous enrolments increased by 4% (table 10.2).
10.2 INDIGENOUS PRESCHOOL ENROLMENTS
|New South Wales|
|Australian Capital Territory|
|Total Indigenous enrolments|
|Total non-Indigenous enrolments|
|(a) Some Queensland enrolments are excluded from the NPC. Consequently, Indigenous preschool enrolments are understated.|
|Source: Department of Education, Science and Training, 'National Preschool Census'.|