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Tuesday, 22 August 1972
Page: 500


Mr REYNOLDS (Barton) - I can agree with the honourable member for Maranoa (Mr Corbett) in paying tribute to those parents who provide for voluntary pre-school kindergartens, but I do not think I can share his idea of their enthusiasm in having to do so. Most of the people associated with pre-school kindergartens that I know of resent very much that they should be singled out in this way, that they have to make these kinds of sacrifices for their children. They see no reason whatsoever why their children at this tender age should not have the assistance of government in the provision of their schooling, as do all other children.

There are 2 factors, I think, which have brought this matter of pre-school education very much to the fore at the present time. First of all, there is a greater community awareness and appreciation of the educability of children in these early, tender years. It is not just a case of the intellectual development of the 2-year old, the 3-year old, the 4-year old or the 5-year old; equally important - some would rate it as even more important - is the emotional and social development of young children at this tender age. I suppose this applies particularly to those children in a one-child family - the only child or the first child. But psychologists tell us that it is very important that even subsequent children should have this social and emotional development. This is the area in which pre-school education has been recognised to play a tremendously important part. Let us recognise that factor.

We in this country have been rather backward in acknowledging the educability of children in these early years. It is not so many years ago, most of us will probably remember, that we used to sneer at what was done in countries such as Russia and certain European countries which put young children into pre-schools. This was supposed to be State indoctrination in the early, tender years of a child's life. We have come to recognise that this attitude is idiotic and that in fact there is much to gain by young children having educational opportunities from about the age of 3 onwards.

The second factor that makes pre-school education so important, of course, is the greater tendency on the part of women to go into the work force. Many of them do so by choice; but many others, unfortunately, are forced to do so by sheer economic necessity. This accounts for the greater demand for pre-school education. A recent survey of applications for child care conducted by the Sydney Day Nursery Schools Association showed that 40 per cent of all applications were from oneparent families - usually a divorced mother, a widowed mother or a deserted wife - in which the mother had to work to support herself and the children, and that 47 per cent of 2-parent applications were from families in economic difficulties because of high rents, hire purchase debts or debts arising from illness or accident necessitating hospital and/or medical care.

Another survey that is very relevant to this question was conducted by a subcommittee of the Industry Standing Committee of the New South Wales Association for Mental Health. This survey was carried out in 1971 and it was stated, inter alia:

Our own surveys revealed that 67 per cent of professional women would prefer part time work.

I am presuming that these were mothers of pre-school age children. So, 67 per cent of professional women would have preferred part time work, 10 per cent would have preferred full time work and 23 per cent would have preferred not to have to work at all. The corresponding figures for nonprofessional women were as follows: 54 per cent preferred part time work, only 5 per cent desired full time work and 41 per cent preferred not to have to work at all. While we acknowledge that there is a number of women who would like to go to work and while there are many others who perforce have to go to work for economic reasons, there is a very strong demand for part time work opportunities. I hope that one of the developments that will occur in industry and commerce in the very near future will be the far greater availability of part time work opportunities for mothers of young children.

It is all very well to quote large statistics on how much money the Government is providing for this, that and the other. We heard the Minister for Education and Science (Mr Malcolm Fraser) doing that very thing this afternoon. Telling how much money the Government intends to spend is only part of the story. The important point is to relate that expenditure to the known needs in the community. Never do we hear the Minister or a Government supporter saying: 'We are spending so much, but the needs were so much; therefore this year we will have a deficit of so much'. These days there are lots of statistics in relation to the need for pre-school education. A survey conducted in 1970 - of course, the figures have escalated since then - showed that the number of children in our Australian community between the ages of 3 and 5 was 699,000, of whom 203,000 were enrolled in schools, usually at the age of 5 years, and 74,000 were enrolled in pre-schools. The very important point I want to highlight is that, in round figures, 200,000 children of working mothers were unable to get into schools or pre-schools. Many other mothers of young children said that if they could get a place for their child in a preschool or child care centre they would like to go into employment.

There is a great diversity of need in our States. The State worst off in terms of preschool education is, unfortunately, New South Wales, where the need is greatest in terms of sheer numbers. In New South Wales only 3 per cent of pre-school age children are in affiliated pre-schools. If all kinds of child care centres, many of which are unregistered, are taken into consideration, only 6 per cent of pre-school age children in New South Wales have the opportunity to go to a kindergarten or some other kind of pre-school facility. By contrast, 95 per cent of children of that age in the Australian Capital Territory have that opportunity. What the Australian Labor Party is urging in its amendment is that all children in Australia should have the same privilege, if I may put it that way, as that enjoyed by the parents and their children who reside in the Australian Capital Territory, In New South Wales the Government pays only $935 a year towards a kindergarten teacher's salary, but in the Australian Capital Territory and in some other States the full cost is borne by the government. In most affiliated preschool kindergartens in New South Wales the charge is $1.20 per morning. Sometimes it costs up to $12 or $14 a week for a parent to place a child in a pre-school kindergarten. But in the Australian Capital Territory. I understand, the charge is 20c per morning.

I have talked about the necessity for providing pre-school kindergarten facilities, but there are a good many people who urge that we ought to consider making some grant or payment to mothers of very young children,, particularly those below the age of 3 years, not to enable mothers to send their children to some child care centre but to enable them to stay at home and mind their children. I think there is a lot to be said for that. It is very important that the young child should be cared for by his mother from birth to about 3. years of age. I think a darn good case can be made out for making this possible by allowing the mother to stay at home with the child. As I said before, I think these early mothering moments, if I may put it that way, when emotional ties are established and when the early development of the child in its social setting in relation to the family is taking place, are very important indeed.

Australia, the affluent country that it is, should be able to relieve many mothers of the necessity to go to work and enable them to stay at home to care for their children* They should not be debarred the opportunity, if they desire it, of subsequently sending their children for pre school education, for the reasons which I outlined at the beginning of my speech. Of course, I have talked in coarse figures and generalised figures about the need for preschool education in Australia. Admittedly, voluntary efforts and sacrifices are being made in many places. But they are being made in those communities which, even if it is difficult, can afford to provide this kind of facility for pre-school education.

We must think of the young children born into families of great economic and social deprivation. For the last 15 months this Government has had before it the report of a Senate inquiry into the welfare of mentally and physically handicapped children. It is a standing disgrace that 15 months after that report was tabled nothing has been done about these children. If it is necessary for the ordinary, normal child to have pre-school education opportunities I say categorically that it is even more urgent and demanding that intellectually and physically handicapped children should have that opportunity, not only for the sake of the children but also for the mental health of their unfortunate parents. Another group that badly needs provision and which cannot afford it consists of migrants during their early period in this country. A report that was recently published stated:

A current ACER-

That is, the Australian Council of Educational Research - survey of the pre-school experience of children in Melbourne entering primary school reveals some striking differences among ethnic groups. Only 26 per cent of children in non-English speaking families had been to kindergarten. By comparison, 49 per cent of children of English speaking migrants and 70 per cent of Australian children had enjoyed some pre-school experience.

The point made in this statement is that while it is very desirable for our normal Australian children to have pre-school education it is all the more desirable so for children of families where English is not normally spoken. If they do not get this opportunity when they come into our community, they will be further behind in their rise up the educational ladder.

I spoke a moment ago about the importance of a mother staying at home where necessary. We can call on the experience of European countries which have made provision for this. It is not a novel idea. In

Hungary, for instance, for the first 3 years of a baby's life a mother is paid to stay at home if she wishes to look after her child. In Austria a mother is paid to look after her child for the first year after its birth. It is interesting to note what other countries are doing. The United States of America has a great programme, called the 'head start' programme, which was introduced under the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964. This is a comprehensive, early childhood education programme for disadvantaged pre-school children and their families. It includes not only the provision of educational facilities but also other such important services as health, nutrition and parent involvement, as well as the educational component that I referred to a while ago. It is a comprehensive programme to look after children and their families in deprived areas. The funds for this scheme are provided by the United States Federal Government. It is a good example for us to follow. The Federal Government provides up to 80 per cent of the total funds for the programme. The average assistance as at October 1970 was $1,050 per child in a full year. When we start providing that kind of help for disadvantaged pre-school aged children in Australia we will have a social revolution. America provides $1,050 per child in each full year. What does this Bill provide? It provides for $2.5m to be spent for the whole of Australia over a period of 3 years and even its implementation has been delayed. Since 1964 in the United States, more than 3.5 million preschool children have had the opportunity of education simply because of that 'head start' programme.

There are many other matters about which I should like to have spoken. It never ceases to amaze me why we in Australia have gone for so long without government accepting the responsibility of pre-school education and education for our handicapped children. It is always a matter of great concern to me to see on the streets of a Saturday morning, parents running chocolate wheels, selling lucky numbers or using some other device to raise tremendous amounts of money to provide for the education of their pre-school children or handicapped children. I think it is a standing social disgrace to this affluent country that this occurs and I only hope - to be quite political about it - that a new government will soon get the opportunity to bring about these desirable reforms.







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