Home and away: the policy context in Australia

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The policies that shape early childhood education and care (ECEC) in Australia are formulated within overlapping national and international contexts. Globalisation, the development of international law and the spread of electronic communication technologies all play a role in the rapid diffusion of ideas and practices to the broader policy community surrounding ECEC internationally. In recent decades ECEC has grown as a component of the in-kind service provision of all Western welfare states (Meyers & Gornick 2003). Women’s rising labour force participation and government policies mandating ‘workfare’ rather than ‘welfare’ are important reasons for this. So, too, are ideas about the significance of the early years for the intellectual, social and emotional development of children. According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), ‘ … the education and care of young children is shifting from the private to the public domain, with much attention to the complementary roles of family and early childhood education and care institutions in young children’s early development and learning’ (OECD 2000, p. 9). This chapter provides an overview of the domestic (‘home’) and international (‘away’) contexts surrounding Australian child care and early education policy. The broad argument is that there is a lack of fit between the emerging international agenda around ECEC which is increasingly child-focused and the Australian Government’s adult-centred, instrumentalist approach to ECEC which sees it as a service linked primarily to supporting workforce participation. The chapter begins with an overview of international developments and moves on to discuss the domestic policy framework established by the Coalition government since 1996.
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Brennan, Deborah
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Hill, Elizabeth
Pocock, Barbara
Elliot, Amanda
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