Sunday, November 09, 2008

Public Education, Not Profiteers, Should Run Early Childhood

There is a huge public outcry against the Federal Government’s announced $22 million bail-out of failed private child care chain ABC Learning.

No doubt this reflects some of the anger of people around the world at the use of tax payer money to bail out the finance capitalists in the wake of the global financial meltdown.

Some of it is also directed personally at entrepreneurial owner Eddie Groves and his estranged wife Le Neve. Shareholders in particular are hopping mad at the couple, and other directors, who promoted the expansion of the company into overseas markets, only to find that the childcare colossus had financial feet of clay in the form of margin loans taken out by Groves and other directors.

Groves built an empire on the social need for child care facilities for young children belonging to working couples and single working parents. He entered a market that had been hitherto largely the province of community-based providers and competed aggressively with them for market share.
Groves was assisted in the expansion of his private company by conservative Federal governments who shared his ideology of private provision of social service. They encouraged his growth by the introduction of subsidies, guaranteeing a reliable stream of income from taxation revenue.

However, Groves and other for-profit operators should never have been allowed near child care.

And child care for working parents should never have been divorced from the issue of a public entitlement to educational development of young children in their pre-school years.

I don’t have scope to expound on the latter point in detail here. For those interested in the issue, the eminent expert in the field, Dr Fraser Mustard recently released his report Investing in the Early Childhood Years here: and it deals extensively with recent research into brain development and the crucial role of the early years in the development of children. (Mustard was employed by the South Australian Government as its Thinker in Residence between 2006-07.)

One of Mustard’s key recommendations to the SA government, however, was no. 11.2:

In keeping with the ideal of public education, the Government of South Australia should incorporate its preschool program into the programs of the early child development and parenting centres and fully fund them for all children from birth.”

If implemented, this recommendation would overthrow the existing subordination of the birth to pre-school years to day care and fee-for-service private providers and be the first real act of the Education Revolution that has to date failed to materialise in any thing other than sycophancy to reactionary US ideologues like New York City’s Joseph Klein.

Mustard’s recommendation points the way forward for the government to take-over ABC Learning, not as a bail-out that keeps it alive as a profit-oriented business, but as an act of transformation into a government provided entitlement for all children in their early years.

Working alongside community-run centres, the strength of the public sector in the provision of early childhood education and care, with complementary legislation, could see the full implementation of the raft of recommendations made by Fraser Mustard.

Public education, not private providers, should run early childhood education and care!

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