Data showed that fewer kids are attending preschool, and experts have called once again for universal free childcare. According to the figures, which the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) released recently there were 4,575 fewer kids registered in childcare programmes in 2022 than there were in 2021, a 1.3% decline.
Only one in four parents of those enrolled were using free childcare, and three out of ten paid $5 or more per hour for preschool.
The availability of completely funded healthcare is reliant on state and territorial policies and programmes, which fluctuate from year to year.
Preschool education is substantially subsidised by states like South Australia, New South Wales, and Victoria, and pupils from underprivileged, low-income, and at-risk households may also be eligible for some programmes.
According to education and care expert Lisa Bryant, the "crazy mix model system" should be simplified to provide everyone access for nothing or for a very cheap cost.
“It’s insane and … shows the mess system the is in,” she said. “Chaos is built into the system and it needs to be redeveloped.”
According to the data, 334,440 kids between the ages of four and five are enrolled in preschool programmes, or around nine out of ten four-year-olds and one out of every five kids between the ages of five.
In total, after subsidies were subtracted, two-thirds of children enrolled in preschool programmes spent $4 or less out of pocket per hour and three in ten paid $5 or more.
At the same time, there are now 45,363 more children enrolled across several provider types, a 13% increase.
Bryant claimed that parents were enrolling their kids in many preschool programmes in an effort to take advantage of different funding structures. Currently, states are in charge of preschool subsidies while the federal government is in charge of childcare.
"The entire system needs to be radically changed, not just this split over two tiers of government," she remarked.
"It doesn't work if children are attempting to establish multiple relationships with various educators, teachers, and other kids across services."
The decline in the number of children enrolled in preschools across Australia, according to Mehreen Faruqi, education spokesman for the Green Party, should "seriously concern" the federal government.
"Early childhood education and care should be free, and it must be a top priority of the government to ensure educators get the best pay and conditions," she said.
For families making up to $520,000 per year, the federal government will begin implementing new childcare subsidy rates in July.
John Cherry from the Goodstart Early Learning Centre testified before a Senate committee in October that the sector needs to hire an additional 9,000 childcare professionals to fill the 7,000 openings left by a spike in enrollment.
Due to a lack of staff, almost 90 Goodstart facilities had to curtail enrolments.
Recruiting and retaining early childhood educators is extremely difficult, therefore many of the 87% of four-year-olds who are "enrolled" in preschool would not have had a teacher for all or part of 2022.
According to him, while roughly one in ten kids weren't in preschool, that number increased to about three in ten for kids in the most disadvantaged cohort.
In order to ensure that the kids who would benefit from preschool the most are able to attend, the government must, in his words, "clearly do more to remove barriers to access."
According to data from the Department of Education released this month, the average hourly childcare price in the most recent June quarter was $10.90, up 4.6% from the prior year.
Declining Number Of Australian Children Attending Preschool Sparks Calls For Universal Free Childcare, The Guardian