OpinionThrive by Five04 Sep 2020

Help a kid learn before they’re five and a whole community thrives

Governments need to be reminded that early childhood learning is good for us all.

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CEO of Minderoo Foundation’s Thrive by Five initiative, Jay Weatherill, visiting an early education centre at Banksia Grove. Photo Credit: Benjamin Horgan.

Children have always been our hope for the future. Their having an opportunity to thrive is a first-order priority for parents and communities. This is even more important during the vital first five years — brain science tells us that is when 90 per cent of a human’s brain development occurs.

What happens during the early years builds a strong or weak foundation for all the brain development that comes later.

Minderoo Foundation has been investing in programs and research in early learning for almost 20 years and presenting compelling evidence to decision-makers during this time.

Regrettably, it has not been enough to secure anything near what is needed from governments. So, this week we have taken a big, considered step and mounted a comprehensive campaign directed to the highest offices in the land.

Our Thrive by Five campaign calls for high-quality early learning to be universally accessible. We want to unlock the substantial resources required to address the costs of late intervention. We want to give parents the information they need to support their children’s brain development. We want practitioners in early learning centres to connect parents with the latest research.

It will be a tough campaign, and one wonders how Australia arrived here — with broken and disconnected systems across early childhood learning nationwide, disillusioned childcare providers, a system that has been bailed out twice during the COVID-19 pandemic, and with more than 20 per cent of five-year-olds not appropriately ready for primary school.

That’s before considering the$15bn taxpayers bear annually as the cost of late intervention.

Launching a reform campaign typically puts a target on your back, yet we see at least five reasons for hope.

First, the initial response to our campaign has been broad and extraordinarily positive.

When Nicola Forrest, Fiona Stanley, Julie Bishop, Michele O’Neil and Jay Weatherill hit the airwaves this week, they encountered widespread support. From small businesses to superannuation funds, from unions to employers, and from educators to parents, we have welcomed almost all key interest groups as partners in our campaign.

A second reason for hope is the quality of our research, using scientific evidence and economic modelling conducted by respected organisations. Modelling has been produced by the Grattan Institute,

Chief Executive Women and the Australia Institute, demonstrating that more affordable, high-quality early learning yields economic benefits that more than justify budgetary investment.

I want to be clear on this: We support a hand up, not a hand out. Minderoo Foundation is not campaigning for childcare to be free; rather, that it be universally accessible and high quality.

We apply a business-oriented approach at Minderoo Foundation. Before we commit to a position, we score the social and economic sides of any argument. What should become evident to decision-makers is that when it comes to high-quality early learning, both the social and economic analysis supports the reform.

A third source of hope is the freshness in the political system, with the successes of national cabinet a new feature of the Australian political landscape.

In tackling many of the desperate challenges of the pandemic, federal-state workings have improved well beyond the old Council of Australian Governments model. We have seen joint design and an improved flow of decision-making under the chairmanship of the Prime Minister at the intersection of federal and state systems. That is what is needed to reform early childhood learning policy.

Fourth is the resilience of the major players themselves, who have never given up.

Stanley showed enormous grace this week as she humbly reinforced the powerful arguments for change she first put in 2003 when Australian of the Year, backed by almost another two decades of evidence. She reaffirmed her resolve and lamented this campaign could not be joined by her dear friend and collaborator, Margot Prior, who sadly died last week in Victoria after contracting COVID-19.

Fifth is the choice and empowerment in the hands of parents that is at the heart of all this. Universal, affordable early learning offers parents greater participation in the workforce, which will reboot the economy. If parents stay at home and access information through our Bright Tomorrows app to build young brains, no one would be happier than us.

Five reasons for hope that this time, finally, the right reforms will come. For children, parents, our economy, and our community, let’s put the case strongly to federal and state governments.

Whether by political pressure or encouragement, let’s ensure they act to make the reforms and investments necessary for high-quality, accessible and affordable early learning. For the sake of every Australian child under the age of five, our nation needs it now more than ever.

We are resolved to see our campaign all the way through to ensure reforms are approved and applied. Join us in this campaign by visiting thrivebyfive.org.au, and help us raise a compelling, collective voice for change.

Andrew Hagger
by Andrew Hagger

Andrew Hagger is the inaugural CEO across the Minderoo group. Andrew was most recently Chief Customer Officer for Consumer Banking and Wealth Management at National Australia Bank, where he drove customer growth and innovation across Australia’s sixth largest listed corporation. Previously he was managing partner for PricewaterhouseCoopers’ Melbourne office. Andrew has a long history of philanthropic leadership including board or senior adviser roles with the Wheeler Centre for Books Writing and Ideas, the Olivia Newton-John Cancer & Wellness Centre, Not for Sale (a global anti-human trafficking organisation) and the Melbourne International Jazz Festival.

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