When injustice starts in the kindergarten

4 August 2006

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Professor Tony Vinson
Professor Tony Vinson

Cases of extreme illiteracy and social neglect are alarmingly common in many kindergartens across the country, according to Tony Vinson, from the University's Faculty of Education and Social Work. Recently a four-year-old child arrived for his first day at a Sydney preschool with just two words in his vocabulary: "Bad boy."

In his study of 20 public preschools and kindergartens in disadvantaged areas in New South Wales, Professor Vinson encountered children who could barely speak, boys and girls unable to identify their own gender, and children who had never seen pencils, paper or books.

"We are not doing justice by our children. A significant number of kids from disadvantaged backgrounds enter kindergarten with major speech and developmental problems that impede the acquisition of foundational literacy skills," he explained.

Since the 1980s, there has been little specific focus on government policy for pre-school education, and it's time for strong leadership and planned financial investment, said Professor Vinson.

When it comes to early childhood education and care, Australia is out of step with the majority of countries in the OECD. It ranks 27th out of 34 countries with respect to the share of government expenditure on pre-primary education. Compared with 16 other rich nations, Australia devotes the least resources to this area.

"We need a path to a more honourable arrangement. The NSW government has a responsibility for ensuring areas of concentrated disadvantage are supported by low cost, good quality pre-schools. It must provide funding to preserve community-based preschools including speech therapy services based at the preschool," argued Professor Vinson.

This lecture was part of the Literacy and Social Responsibility public lecture series.The next lecture in the series, titledLiteracy for 21st Century Australia, will be presented on 7 September by leading linguist Francis Christie. Contact Alyson Simpson ( for details.