Parents need choice
WHAT is needed is not compulsory preschool, but rather better government funding to give parents the choice of where to send their young children, according to Coffs Harbour mother Emma Hazell.
"If you have a child in childcare, the government gives you a percentage of your money back, so if you're on a low income, you tend to use childcare rather than preschool," Mrs Hazell said.
"What that's doing is taking away choice. They need to establish an even playing field in terms of fees, to provide people with choice."
And that's one thing the Federal Government will look at in a plan aimed at starting children's education earlier in a national program that could see all four-year-old children having to go to preschool or an accredited childcare centre with trained teaching staff.
As part of the plan, which is being put together for the next Council of Australian Governments' meeting in June, the Federal Education Minister, Julie Bishop, will review the Federal childcare benefit and the childcare tax rebate, which parents putting their children in preschool currently can't get.
But it's the compulsory aspect that seems to have everyone baulking.
"I like to have a choice. Making it compulsory is not necessarily the best way, because what's best for my child may not be for all children," president of the Parent Body Management Committee of Brayside Community Preschool Donna Dalton said.
"And while we know the benefits of socialising your children, there are many ways you can do that, and that should be your choice.
"What's most important is informing people on how important it is for their children to go to preschool, like the immunisation campaign the Federal Government has been running."
A study by the Organisation for Economic Development last year found 41 per cent of Australian children aged four years and under are in education.
"I believe that a national consistent approach is a vital step in ensuring that early childhood education sets young Australians on the path of a fulfilling life as contributing members of society," Ms Bishop said.
Currently, preschools are required to employ a qualified early childhood teacher, but daycare centres are not.
This raises the concern that requiring daycare centres to employ qualified teachers could cause a shortage, and increase costs because they have a higher wage. But whatever the plan, co-owner of Banksia Preschool and Long Daycare Centre, Paula Dowd wants to see wide consultation.
"Anything aimed at improving children literacy is a good thing, but it needs to be done in consultation with many more people than politicians," she said.