One free day of early learning per week for every three-year-old in Canberra could become a reality by 2024, if ACT Labor are re-elected next month.
The election promise is the first step to an eventual goal of 15 hours of free early learning access to all three-year-old children in the Territory.
ACT Labor leader Andrew Barr said the initiative responded to thorough research within early childhood development.
“Well established research has shown that the period from birth through to eight years – especially the first three years – sets the foundation for every child’s social, physical, emotional and cognitive development,” he said.
“A re-elected ACT Labor Government will continue to work with the early childhood and care sector in Canberra to deliver this service for all families with three-year-old children in the ACT.”
A similar initiative was delivered to 600 most in need three-year-old children earlier this year, allocating 15 hours of free early learning per week.
Currently, 15 hours of free early childhood education is available to all four-year-old children under a National Partnership agreement.
Children First Alliance, a network of children’s services providers in the ACT, have previously called for universal access to early learning services for 15 hours per week for all three-year-old children in the Territory.
Co-Chair Amanda Tobler said the organisation welcomed today’s announcement and hoped it would result in reaching that goal.
“Children First Alliance is asking and has been advocating for universal access for all three-year-olds. ACT Labor’s announcement today is promising one day a week, so we are saying it’s a step in the right direction,” she said.
“There is strong evidence that shows children who have access to early learning have better outcomes socially, psychologically and emotionally.
“For every dollar you spend in early education, you save $7 later for interventions that may be required.”
The ACT Greens had announced a similar policy in its Gender-led COVID recovery package last month, however on a shorter timeframe.
“The ACT Greens welcome ACT Labor catching up to our commitment today to accelerate access to early learning for three-year-olds,” ACT Greens education spokesperson Johnathan Davis said.
“That said, we think this should happen sooner, in the 2021 school year, so that more children can access this important learning development, sooner – and for 15 hours, not just one day.”
ACT Greens spokesperson for women Emma Davidson said the party’s policy announcement also had women at the forefront of its mind.
“Women make up 96% of workers in early childhood education. Now, with free childcare no longer available, we have a childcare sector in crisis,” she said.
“Our plan for faster rollout of universal early childhood education for three-year-olds of 15 hours per week, working with the early childhood sector, will enable more workforce participation for all parents, which we know will mostly be women.”
The Canberra Liberals were contacted for comment.