Early Childhood Education

Mr KENNEDY (Hawthorn) (21:30): I am very pleased to be speaking on this motion. It has been quite some time since I was a three-year-old, and I certainly did not have the benefit of a three-year old kindergarten. It has caused me to think a little bit about my own early education. I remember when I was just maybe a year or two older than three—in the preps—we were all encouraged to sing. It was said to us that if we sang well and with intensity and concentration, there was a statue in our room and that that statue would move. If we sang well, we would see the statue move.

So off we went, and the first verse was sung. The person running the class said, ‘Hands up those who saw the statue move’. Well, I certainly was not going to move my hands at all, but a few crawlers and sycophants’ hands went up—just a very small group, mind you. The teacher said, ‘Well, look, we will have another go at this’. So we sang again. She said, ‘You know if you really concentrate, you will see that statue move’. And away we went. Once again we were asked, and this time more hands went up. But I can tell you, mine did not. I just thought, ‘This is ridiculous; I haven’t seen the statue move’. So we were asked to do the third verse, and off we went. I have to confess—and this is the first time I have ever confessed this—the third time around, I put my hand up. And some would say that perhaps typified the rest of my life; I do not know. But it was a strange way of teaching things then, in a way. It is good to see that we have come a long way in those early childhood education experiences.

Going forward a number of years, I look at the way we brought up our daughter and son. We were, I suppose, very relaxed, and hopefully they acquired good values and what have you from us. However, I notice now with my own daughter and her daughter—my granddaughter—that I think to myself, ‘My wife and I were as slack as slack’. When I look at the unbelievable business that now goes into the education of a one-year-old or a seven-month-old and what have you and so forth, I understand that and I do see that. We are told, ‘She must have her two sleeps’, and, ‘This must happen, and this must happen’, et cetera and so forth.

Sometimes you can stand back and think a bit cynically about all these things and think, you know, ‘Well, is it really necessary?’. But this brings me then to the three-year-old kindergarten. I think that there is no disputing the evidence that those three years, that at age three—I think that I was reading that around 90 per cent of brain development occurs before the age of five, including critical cognitive, social, emotional and behavioural development. And we know about language acquisition and motor skills. We have seen in countries like Finland and Korea the benefits that have accrued not just at that age group but in times thereafter. It was a bit hit and miss in my time and perhaps even in child rearing, but in more recent times I think more research has been done and data has been collected, and this is something that is really, really worthwhile. It is undisputed data that we have.

There are a couple of other things that I would just like to mention along the way, if I could. One is the notion of establishing kindergartens on school sites.

Now, that does not sound particularly special. It is certainly very convenient in terms of a one-stop shop and so on. But I think what is really important for children—I am just speaking now as an educator, as a former principal and so on—is learning not just in a horizontal way of just one age group only, and that is inevitable when you are talking about three-year-old kinder of course and understandable, but in that sense of recognising that you are part of an age group. When you go there to three-year-old kinder and you are in a primary school of children aged up to 12 years of age, that can be a very important thing. It is a kind of incidental learning if you like. It is an incidental form of socialisation and so on. So when I was reading about that I thought, well, I have seen secondary schools—one that I was a principal of—where we brought along this whole vertical system wherein a kid in year 7 could see what happens to people in year 12, and so on and so forth. Well, it is in the same way here; I think it is very good that three-year-old kinder is not isolated from the rest of the world. I certainly do not think it is, but I just think having it on the same site is a very good thing.

I can certainly report, in visiting kindergartens myself in the Hawthorn electorate, the wonderful experience that one finds. If you visit secondary schools, they are happy enough to see you, but they do not show any excitement, whereas if you go into a kindergarten, they are absolutely enthusiastic, particularly if you are prepared to sit and read a book to them and so on. So it has been a joy for me in this job of just 18 months to include the visiting of kindergartens. When I go there I am just amazed at the level of confidence that is often shown by the boys and girls there, the way they have been taught to interrelate, that it is not just survival of the fittest and that you actually learn to listen and to hear people. People often say, ‘You’re not listening’. Well, I think you are listening if you can repeat what a person has said. If you can repeat the reasons for their argument and so on, that is listening. It does not mean you have to agree, and I have seen that demonstrated in the kindergartens that I have been privileged to visit. So I have been delighted by that experience. It means quite a lot to me to see the figures that have been presented there. The government is investing $5 billion over the full rollout this decade, and I think that is just fantastic. This is not something where you think, ‘Well, with a lick and a promise, I hope it turns out’.

The other thing about it, too, is that it often occurred to me years ago that when you go to school you have an opportunity for a little bit of a fresh start. There is a bit of an image about you within the family situation. You might be seen as always whingeing or lazy or whatever it might be, and in a way schooling—and I would extend this to three-year-old kinder—is an opportunity for them to move away from Mum and Dad and maybe look at opportunities to, I am not saying bring out their best light, bring out a different light and so on. So that wonderful opportunity that you have in the best schools and in kindergartens is to balance home life and home values with experience of interaction with children in a kind of benignly and professionally controlled atmosphere. So it is not something that necessarily we will see an immediate return for economically—it will not hit the stock market or anything like that—but I think you will recognise it. You cannot define a rhinoceros, but if you come across one in the jungle you will recognise it, and it is the same sort of thing. You might not be able to define what has gone on there, but I think in the interpersonal relationships and what have you, you will see that that will be developed. So I am very pleased to commend the motion.