All children in NSW will be able to access play-based learning for free in the year before they start kindergarten under a radical revamp of the state’s early education system.
NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet and Victorian Premier Dan Andrews released a joint statement on Thursday saying both states will “embark on the greatest transformation of early education in a generation”.
“Every child in Victoria and NSW will experience the benefits of a full year of play-based learning before their first year of school,” they said.
Announcing the program at an early childhood centre in Sydney, Mr Perrottet said the ultimate goal was to have universal preschool education in NSW.
“We will ensure that our kids get the best social outcomes (and) the best educational outcomes,” he told reporters.
Education Minister Sarah Mitchell says the extra year will be a “gamechanger” with kids attending for free, five days a week, from 2030 in a budget pledge worth $5.8 billion over ten years.
“This will absolutely change lives … It’s worth every penny,” she said.
“We’re effectively covering the cost of a full year of childcare”.
Trials will start next year in some communities with the program eventually expected to benefit 130,000 children a year.
Thousands of early education teachers will need to be recruited and trained and more preschools will have to be built at primary schools.
Treasurer Matt Kean trumpeted the long-term reform as an economic boon for the state.
“It’s about investing in our children and that means investing in our state’s future,” he said.
“Every dollar we invest in childhood education is a two dollar boost to our economy.”
“This is the ‘Families Premier’ putting his stamp on delivering a family budget.”
The government has already announced it will spend $1.4 billion to subsidise preschool from next year, as well as $5 billion over a decade to deliver more childcare places.
Advocacy group The Parenthood said it was “an astute investment” for children and parents.
“The significance of the commitment for early learning reform in Victoria and NSW cannot be overstated, and nor can the profound benefits it will bring for children, women, families, communities and the economy,” Executive Director Georgie Dent said.
“Early childhood education and care is nation-building infrastructure that we need now”.
The NSW Labor opposition pointed to staff shortages across all levels of education.
It has initiated an upper house inquiry into the teacher shortage, noting there are nearly 2400 vacancies in NSW.
“This inquiry will shine a light on the Perrottet government’s failure to ensure every student has a qualified teacher in front of their class,” education spokeswoman Prue Car said.