Canberra, 8 March 2016: In the context of one in five Australian children being at risk of not developing the literacy skills they need to succeed as an adult, leaders from the early childhood sector, meeting at the National Early Literacy Summit held in Canberra yesterday, called on the Federal Government to support the development of a National Early Language and Literacy Strategy.
The summit highlighted the wide range of activities already targeting zero to five-year-olds. However, it identified the opportunity for greater co-ordination at a national level between organisations supporting families with young children. The delivery of early childhood education and care is in the hands of many different agencies, including kindergartens, playgroups, health, social services, schools, libraries, and all three levels of government. This results in competing priorities, duplication of effort and a lack of clarity in relation to the outcomes for children.
A National Early Language and Literacy Strategy would identify the economic return of investment in the early years. It would map what is already happening in early learning around Australia, through childcare centres, libraries, play groups and other programs. It would identify opportunities for greater collaboration and focus on evidence-based practice to improve outcomes for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children in society.
Reporting the 2015 results from the Australian Early Development Census on 7 March, Minister for Education and Training, Simon Birmingham said: 'There's a lot of benefits from getting it right in the preschool area but so much of that falls on the shoulders of parents and families and we need to make sure that the advice, the information, the support is available to them.'
Sue McKerracher, CEO of summit organiser the Australian Library and Information Association, said: 'A National Early Language and Literacy Strategy will help ensure parents and caregivers received greater help and that more five-year-olds are school-ready. Summit participants have committed to scoping a national strategy, and this will be a continuing discussion, which we hope governments at all three levels will engage with.
'It is a great opportunity for the role of libraries to be promoted to families, including free storytimes and rhymetimes, books to borrow, and expert advice from children’s librarians.'
One of the speakers at the Summit, Samantha Page, CEO of Early Childhood Australia, said: 'We need greater coordination of effort and joint focus on language and literacy development in the early years, particularly to address disadvantage and inequity. Children who start school behind their peers rarely catch up and are at heightened risk of poor lifelong engagement with learning. The fact that six out of ten Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are starting school vulnerable in one or more domain warrants urgent and substantive action. A national strategy is an important starting point.'
The summit was held in Canberra at the Hotel Realm on March 7 - 8 and was one of the first times that this diverse range of service providers, educators, policy advisors, researchers, libraries and governments representatives had come together to discus issues related to early literacy. For more detail, please see the summit website.
About the Australian Library and Information Association
The Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA) is the professional organisation for the Australian library and information services sector. With 5,000 members across Australia, we provide the national voice of the profession in the development, promotion and delivery of quality library and information services, through leadership, advocacy and mutual support. www.alia.org.au
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