PLAYFUL EARLY LEARNING IS THE KEY TO SUCCESS

There has been considerable debate of late about when formal schooling should commence for our children and the value of early learning.  

Further to this we have recently had debates in this country about the need to use empirical evidence to determine public policy outcomes.

Government of all persuasions must be committed to implementing public policy based on expert advice, it is in the best interest of good public policy and a well-functioning society.

According to University of Cambridge psychologist David Whitbread, there is no research which supports an earlier school starting age or the notion that ‘earlier is better.’ Mr Whitbread’s research focusses on children's psychological development and implications of an earlier starting age for primary education, with a particular focus on children learning through play, quality in early childhood education, evolutionary psychology and the application of cognitive neuroscience to education.

Renowned psychologist and author of Raising Boys Steve Biddulph argues that children especially boys should not commence formal learning until the age of 5, consistent with the majority of schools across Australia. Evidence suggests that playful learning before the commencement of formal schooling within a classroom environment has positive outcomes on a child’s socialisation and future cognitive ability.

Starting formal schooling too young in particular literacy and numeracy can have damaging consequences. A study of European countries where the school starting age is consistent with our own found that an extended period of high quality play based learning made a significant difference to academic learning and wellbeing through the primary school years. Moreover, recent findings from a Danish school provides compelling evidence that delaying the school starting age had positive effects on children’s mental health and wellbeing in an age when anxiety amongst our young people is at heightened levels.

There is also evidence showing links between increased stress and mental health problems among children in England and other countries where early childhood education is being adopted.   

The question is why the State Government is so committed to changing the kindergarten starting age to 3.5 years of age with no evidence to back it up? How will this lead to better educational and social outcomes when all the evidence points to an opposing view.  

Instead, I pose the question. Why isn’t the state government providing more funding for playful early learning? Early learning play centres are an effective deployment of state government resources and would ensure our young people access this vital early playful education to stimulate important cognitive functions.

Recently I visited Discovery Early Learning Centre at Ravenswood. This facility is exceptional, delivering long term real results for the broader community. The saying that it takes a village to raise a child is one of the truest statements.

If the State Government successfully passes legislation to lower the school age it could cripple early learning centres. They will most likely be forced to increase charges for parents, charges which the majority in our community will not be able to sustain.

Early Child Care Australia has stated that almost 50 per cent of early child care centres could be at risk of closure if the state government’s legislation is adopted.

Instead of ignoring the empirical evidence the state government must rethink this policy.   

The State Government has just announced a $62 million surprise surplus. If we aren’t investing in the next generation we aren’t fulfilling our responsibility to deliver good government, let alone for the provision of a good society. Why not invest some of this surplus in our early childhood education facilities?

Until there is evidence which states unequivocally that the starting school at age should be reduced to 3.5 then we should not be making this important policy change.

Maybe the state government should invest more and incentivise people to send their children to early learning centres. Invest in enhancing cognitive ability through playful early learning. Trust our experts in their field. Before we send out kids to kindergarten, let’s send them to early childhood educators first.

This article was originally published in The Examiner on Tuesday, 23 August 2016.