Free kinder for four-year-olds will be expanded in Victoria under an early education overhaul as part of a $9 billion investment over the next decade.
From the first day of term next year, children in Victoria will have access to 30 hours of play-based learning across five days every week before the first year of school under a significant change in tandem with NSW.
The extra hours will see four-year-old kinder transition to pre-prep, which means an extra 12 months of school a year early.
The program, designed to assist with early brain development, will be free but is not mandatory and will be delivered through kinder and day care.
The new program will focus on a child’s “growing and learning” to give them the skills they need for school and life.
Three-year-old kinder will be free beginning next year and is already rolling out across the state, with families accessing 15-hours of learning each week.
Premier Daniel Andrews said the change would benefit hundreds and thousands of working families across both states.
“We are going to give every child, every mum and every dad the best start for the best life,” he said.
“This is all about investing to make systems that are broken and don’t work so much better and to unlock the economic potential that is simply not able to be realised because of those broken systems.”
Minister for Early Childhood Ingrid Stitt said early education has a profound affect on a child’s development.
“All of the research shows us that two years of early childhood education is incredibly important in setting children up for life,” she said.
“What we’re rolling out from today is a doubling of the four-year-old kinder dose, which means that young children in the year before they attend school will have an in-depth and quality early childhood experience and the very best chance to be successful.”
Opposition early childhood spokesman David Hodgett welcomed the announcement.
“Today’s announcement is an important step forward but more work remains to be done,” Mr Hodgett said.
“Children and students bore the brunt of the world’s longest lockdown and deserve better support and a real plan to catch up on lost learning.
“A Matthew Guy Liberals and Nationals government will support and implement these reforms as part of our plan to get our children’s development back on track.”
Early leaning organisation Thrive by Five said the changes would be life-changing for many families.
“The race to the top on significant early learning reform will be life-changing for children, women and families across Victoria and NSW,” Thrive by Five director Jay Weatherill said.
“It’s not just an incredible investment in children, this is an investment in better choices for women and families and will drive workforce participation and the economy.”