In November 2018 I was fortunate enough to be part of a one day dialogue titled Communicating: The Heart of Literacy. It was an opportunity to explore with others the critical role that communication, language and literacy play in every aspect of our lives.
Several insights and thoughts arose for me after the day, the first being the rapidly changing environment and culture in Tasmania, including the large number of pre-kindergarten children attending significant hours of childcare, early learning or similar programs; and the significant numbers that have little or no access to such services. The consequences of such unequal access to programs prior to kindergarten is clear.
During the day I thought a lot about the importance of acknowledging the efforts of those that are working so hard on literacy already. However, as we all know, there is still a challenge and a responsibility to improve the current situation. As a predominantly early childhood teacher, I believe there is a well-earned pride in the fact that over many years the Tasmanian Department of Education initiatives in the early years have been an example to the nation. But despite the best efforts of educators, teachers, parents, child carers, and communities, not every child is succeeding.
So where do we start? When it comes to communication, language and literacy development, we must not leave it until children begin school. The latest Government initiate, Working with Three Year Olds, is a very positive move. But if we want to change the trajectory of Tasmanians’ literacy we need to start young and invest in the early years. As James Heckman, Nobel Prize winning economist, has proven, investment in the early years gives greater return for per dollar invested than at any other period of development.
It is true to say that literacy and language development in the birth to 4 year-old age group has not been systemically approached. Current research provides irrefutable evidence of the importance of the first 1000 days of a child’s life. The period from birth to 4 years is a period in which positive and negative experience can last a lifetime and shape the child’s social, emotional, and psychological learning, as well as their physical development. This is the period before formal school education begins.
From birth to 4 years of age is the time when a child’s brain develops faster than at any other time. We build on this foundation for success at school. If the foundations of language and literacy and communication, are missing, research shows ’catch up time‘ will be necessary, at greater cost, more resources, and lower chance of success.
When children develop strong literacy and language skills in the birth to 4 year-old age group, the impact on their later educational attainment and employment outcomes is also significantly enhanced. Tasmania will benefit from investing in early childhood – getting it right in the early years is more effective and efficient than trying to fix it later.
It is during this formative period where B4 Coalition is working and where I believe we all need to start. My current role as Co-Chair of the Government initiative, The B4 Coalition, a title which represents the time from pregnancy to 4 years of age. We connect with those already in the field, especially those families and communities with little access to services and support. The B4 Coalition aims to connect, encourage and engage Tasmanian individuals, organisations, parents, carers, and Government agencies in a collective approach to supporting children in the early years.
The B4 coalition’s purpose is to spread the message of why the early years are so important and to develop a toolkit to share the message in easily accessible ways.
Elizabeth Daly is a co-chair of the B4 Coalition and a former Tasmanian Children’s Commissioner. She attended the Communicating: The Heart of Literacy symposium at Tasmania’s Government House in November 2018.