Children will be educated a year earlier under plans unveiled by the NSW and Victorian governments.
The extra year of education would be for kids aged four to five years old and could begin as early as 2025 in Victoria.
That means children in that state could undertake a year of “pre-prep” before they officially start primary classes.
Premiers Daniel Andrews and Dominic Perrottet are backing the idea for free, full-time “play-based learning” while explaining it would be a solution to enable parents – especially mothers – to get back to work.
“It will mean that, in the next 10 years, every child in Victoria and NSW will experience the benefits of a full year of play-based learning before their first year of school,” Mr Andrews and Mr Perrottet said in a joint statement on Thursday.
“A year dedicated to growing and learning, new friends and new experiences. A year devoted to helping our kids be the very best they can be. Giving them the skills they need for school, but just as importantly, the skills they need for life.
“At the same time, it will benefit hundreds of thousands of working families.”
The Victorian government will also build 50 childcare centres in in-demand areas of the state. The aim is to make fees less than those offered by private providers.
Parents could also save up to $2500 a year from 2023, with the government committed to funding 15 hours of free kindergarten every week for four-year-old children.
The program, designed to assist with early brain development, will be free but is not mandatory. It will be delivered through kinder and day care.
Mr 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.”
Victorian Minister for Early Childhood Ingrid Stitt said early education had 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.”
In NSW, Mr Perrottet said the ultimate goal was universal preschool education in NSW.
“We will ensure that our kids get the best social outcomes (and) the best educational outcomes,” he said on Thursday.
Education Minister Sarah Mitchell said the extra year would be a “game-changer” with kids attending for free, five days a week, from 2030 in a budget pledge worth $5.8 billion over 10 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 NSW communities. The program is 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.
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”.