Early childhood educators say lowering Tasmania’s school starting age could create an “elitist” system as prices for care have the potential to rise significantly.
Last year, the government announced its proposal to lower the non-compulsory school starting age to three-and-a-half years for kindergarten students.
Education Minister Jeremy Rockliff said these changes would provide students with the opportunity for free, public education from a younger age, including for those who might otherwise miss out.
Consultation around the proposed changes is ongoing, but on Wednesday, Discovery Early Learning Centres chief executive Jo Walsh said she was concerned the changes could drive up the cost of childcare.
“Some of us will be losing up to 50 per cent of our children to schools … so you have to charge more to cover your overheads,” she said.
“It would be unaffordable, especially for low socioeconomic families in these disadvantaged communities.”
Mr Rockliff said the idea of the lower, voluntary school starting age was to engage students in education earlier.
“We know that education increases economic performance in Tasmania, our productivity, but importantly, it’s the best opportunity we can give our kids to lead healthy and productive lives,” he said.
“Of course we want to listen, work with, the early child education and care sector so they can transition to the new changes.”
Opposition spokeswoman Michelle O’Byrne said she had seen a disconnect between the early childhood sector and government.
“The early education and care sector, that takes care of children prior to going to school, have felt excluded from the consultation process,” Ms O’Byrne said.
On Wednesday, the government announced new data found the number of students achieving their Tasmanian Certificate of Education was increasing.
In 2016, 3767 students achieved a TCE, 382 more students than last year.
“This means the achievement rate has risen to 56.4 per cent,” Mr Rockliff said.