There have been a couple of articles (probably because it is the silly season) recently about the unaffordability of pre-schools in NSW, compared with other Australian states. The vast majority of pre-schools in NSW cost about $30 a day, with most children going for the year before school, for two or three days a week. They are generally for six hours a day, during school terms only, so are only an option for families where at least one parent either has very flexible working hours, or stays at home to look after the children.
Those families generally don’t have as much money as others, so $60 or $90 a week (for 40 hours a year thats $2,400 to $3,600) is real money. If, for example, you are a single parent with no support from your child’s other parent, the single parent allowance is $13,365 a year. It’s fairly clear from this study that preschool, particularly good quality preschool, is an excellent way to help children into the education system.
Children who experience high quality pre-school for a long duration have the most advantage in intellectual and social development when they start school.
But that’s not all. A preschool program in the US focusing on disadvantaged children – Headstart has been shown to be one of the most economically effective ways of reducing crime and juvenile delinquency, not to mention the advantage in better lives that graduates will have by getting more out of schools than their peers who didn’t get the preschool education.
So preschool has a much bigger effect on a child’s later learning if they start of disadvantaged by their home environment.
But here in NSW, unless you’re lucky enough to live where there is a preschool funded by the Department of Education (there are about 100) you have to pay a not insignificant amount to send your child to preschool. Not only that, but it’s hard to build a new preschool. Councils will generally try to encourage long day care centres, because state and federal governments are trying to encourage them. You are more likely to get council approval for a long day centre than a preschool, everything else being equal. So we ended up sending both our sons to long day care, instead of a preschool, because we failed to put their names down at birth for the local preschool.
It’s a classic problem of the electoral cycle; preschool is a very long term investment, and governments aren’t really interested in long term investments. But the more I read about it, the more I think that preschool is one of the most valuable investments that society can make.