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 from ages 1 to 3. This has prompted various educational providers to introduce formal programs to maximise the uptake of basic skills in their 1-3 year old age cohorts. Such programs are generally available in child care or family day care centres. Currently, the statistical focus is on developing new data sources describing the activity within the sector, and improving the comparability of existing data.
Data about preschool participation can be obtained from a number of sources, including the triennial Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Child Care Survey (last conducted in 2002) and the National Indigenous Preschool Census (NIPC), which is conducted annually by the Australian Government Department of Education, Science and Training. The scope of the NIPC is 3-5 year olds attending preschools which have been identified as registered providers and have a preschool educational program. The purpose of the NIPC is to allocate Australian Government funding to preschools for Indigenous students.
Preschool generally refers to education that is provided for children from 3 years of age to school starting age. It is largely sessional and operates only during school terms. Preschools may be operated by government, community organisations or the private sector. Preschool programs may also be provided in long-day child care centres.
There is no national policy on the provision of preschool education, the responsibility for this resting with individual states and territories. The age at which children may attend preschool varies, reflecting the different school commencement ages in each jurisdiction. The 2002 ABS Child Care Survey showed 62% of preschoolers were aged 4 at the time of the survey in June 2002.
INDIGENOUS PRESCHOOL STUDENTS
In 2004, 9,055 Indigenous children were enrolled in government and non-government preschools, representing 4.4% of total preschool enrolments, as counted by the NIPC. Of these enrolments 30% were in New South Wales. Table 10.1 contains data for Indigenous preschool enrolments from 2002 to 2004. Between 2003 and 2004, the number of Indigenous children enrolled in preschools increased in all states and territories except New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland.
10.1 INDIGENOUS PRESCHOOL ENROLMENTS
|New South Wales|
|Australian Capital Territory|
|Total Indigenous enrolments|
|Total non-Indigenous enrolments|
|(a) Some Queensland enrolments are excluded from the NIPC. Consequently, Indigenous preschool enrolments are understated.|
Source: Department of Education, Science and Training, 'National Indigenous Preschool Census'.