It is 9am on Friday and four-year-old Nicholas has bowled up to class in Leichhardt's Italian Forum, he's shyly holding a piece of paper in his hand. It's his homework, he says, as he presents it to his "school readiness" teacher, Violeta Dimeska.
Nicholas' friend, Freya, follows him into the glass-panelled room, a zoo of alphabets and picture books, finger paints and pencils. On top of the stereo sits a sound track titled "Off to School" featuring the classic hits, One Times Table, Ding Dong d and One Potato Two Potato. On the wall next to it is a sign of things to come, "the art of essay writing".
Freya, who has fashioned herself a Sinead O'Connor style haircut with some rogue hairdressing the night before, fiddles with her remaining curls as she stares at Nicholas as he draws a goldfish that looks more like a cloud. "Under the sea," the class yells, as mini-Sinead jumps up and sketches an extra spiky one.
Kumon, one of the world's tutoring multinationals with 4.2 million students around the globe and 42,000 students in Australia, has had its pre-school English enrolments surge by 63 per cent since 2011, at the same time as its maths courses have grown by 38 per cent.
At the same time smaller, local rivals are expanding, feeding into the perceived need to get kids up to scratch, as the NSW government institutes progress tests from kindergarten and the nation's NAPLAN assessments grow in spectre. The Australian Tutoring company runs the Leichhardt centre and another in the north shore, while it plans to open another in the Hills district as the cottage industry swells to meet demand.
"It's not like childcare," says the manager of the Keep Learning centre, 24-year-old Natalia Festa.
"It is more in-depth, with less of the unstructured play you get in childcare. You compare the children that don't get this extra help with those that do, when they get to kindergarten you can see the big difference."
They start early. This week three- to four-year-olds in the centre's "ready set grow class" are learning about summer, imagining all the outfits they get to wear, and the letters M and N. "We send homework each week, just as a recap of what we did. They do that with mum and dad," says Ms Festa.
As for tests, the centre prefers to call them checklists. "Can they identify the alphabet, we test them on basic sight words like me and my. We don't assess them, we just see where they are up to," she says.
"It is pretty basic stuff, we don't expect them to read before they get to school, it's just so they are not shocked when they get there."
But others in the industry are not so convinced.
"There's absolutely no advantage to it, it's wasting parents' time and money," says Dr Shona Bass, an early childhood education expert and author of the Australian Council of Education Research's guide to play-based learning.
Dr Bass says the proliferation of pre-kindy tutoring was "what we refer to as the push down effect, where opportunities are being presented to children earlier and earlier all in the name of giving them the best start in life", she says.
"But in most instances it's the polar opposite, because little children need to be little children."
"We have a very strong view that school readiness is related to a child's social and emotional maturity … Social, emotional maturity is like all those other developmental milestones, it has its own pathway for each child. It's not something that you can hurry up."
Carolin Wenzel from the Australian Childcare Alliance is also sceptical about the benefits of "school readiness" programs.
"Mostly what children need to get ready for school is not being hothoused to learn their alphabets, it's more to do with being able to get along with other kids, learning social and emotional skills.
"Our main struggle is to make sure that all children in Australia have access to two days a week quality early learning and that's still not happening," she says.
Grubby LNP characters are targeting parents and schools with their homophobic claptrap and also using the respected memory of of Nelson Mandela to do it. Is this the start of the 'mature and cordial' debate on same sex marriage that Turnbull is talking about? No surprise that colourful LNP members are behind it all and this is just the start of it. Pity they shave to drag kids and families into it ( refer their propaganda below)
The Nelson Mandela Foundation has voiced its disapproval over the use of the anti-apartheid leader's image to oppose same-sex marriage, after his face was included in leaflets distributed by Liberal Party members.
They included an image of the anti-apartheid leader and a quote from him that said children were "our greatest treasure" and "our future".
The Nelson Mandela Foundation said it had become aware his image and words had been used to infer he opposed same-sex marriage.
"The Nelson Mandela Foundation would like to correct this misrepresentation," it said in a statement.
"As South Africa's first democratically elected president, Nelson Mandela signed into law a constitution that stood for the rights of all."
It said that included introducing legislation which said the state could not unfairly discriminate against someone on the basis of their sexual orientation.
"We object to the misuse of the legacy of someone who worked precisely for the recognition of such rights," it said.
Federal Liberal MP Trent Zimmerman told AM those who distributed the pamphlets did so as private citizens and were not acting on behalf of the Liberal Party.
He said he found the use of Mandela's image concerning.
"I do think it's disappointing that material, which is quite self-evidently factually incorrect, is being used, and quite bizarre that a great and inclusive leader like Nelson Mandela would be associated with a campaign of this type," Mr Zimmerman said.
Maybe this money should come out of any extra funds Birmingham decides to give his mates in WA
Story from the Guardian
Australia’s education department paid Bjørn Lomborg’s Copenhagen Consensus Centre $640,000 to help produce a report that claimed limiting world temperature increases to 2C was a “poor” use of money.
The $640,000 cost, incurred before the CCC’s controversial $4m Australian program was junked, is revealed in the 2016 incoming ministerial brief published under freedom of information laws.
An education department spokeswoman told Guardian Australia the $640,000 represented the Australian government contribution to the CCC for the Smarter UN Post-2015 Development Goals project.
The project concluded that for every dollar spent on keeping global temperatures to the 2C target, less than $1 of social, economic or environmental benefit resulted, which it described as a “poor” result.
Other spending with “poor” returns included cutting outdoor air pollution, increasing protected biodiversity areas, better disaster resilience for the poor and reducing child marriages.
Projects with “phenomenal” returns included reducing world trade restrictions through the Doha trade round, which it said would produce $2,011 for every dollar spent, and universal access to contraception which would return $120 on the dollar.
Some environmental projects rated as good investments, with “more energy research” rating an $11 return, and phasing out fossil fuel subsidies likely to yield $15 or more.
The education department spokeswoman said the CCC had provided a comprehensive report on 169 funding possibilities across 22 core issues, which was published as the Nobel Laureates’ Guide to the Smartest Targets for the World, 2016-2030.
The project explained its conclusions were “based on peer-reviewed analyses from 82 of the world’s top economists and 44 sector experts”.
Its brochure notes financial support was provided by the Australian government. A spokesman for the CCC said the $640,000 was for costs incurred and that the intended work of the Australian Consensus Centre, which included the development goal project, was a matter of public record.
In April 2015 Guardian Australia revealed the then Abbott government’s plan to spend $4m over four years to bring the Copenhagen Consensus Centre methodology to Australia at a new centre in the University of Western Australia’s business school.
UWA rejected the funds after a public backlash leading to a search for a new home for the Australian Consensus Centre.
The project was axed later in 2015 when Malcolm Turnbull became prime minister, which the brief explains was caused by the government’s conclusion it was “unlikely to enjoy success and that the funds could be better utilised elsewhere”.
Flinders University staff and students keep fighting Bjørn Lomborg centre
The brief notes the centre’s Australian program was to cost $4m to provide “policy information and advice on smart, cost-effective solutions to national and international challenges” before it was dropped in mid 2015.
“The department has negotiated a funding agreement which will provide a one-off payment to the CCC for a total of $640,000 to cover costs incurred in relation to the establishment of the Australian Consensus Centre prior to the decision to cancel this project,” it said.
The shadow innovation, industry, science and research minister, Kim Carr, questioned why the government had “felt the need to keep [the $640,000] secret”.
“The department of education needs to explain why in one document the secretary is told that this money was establishment costs around the centre, but now states that the $640,000 was for a specific research project,” he said.
“When government research money is in such sort supply for Australia’s best and brightest scientists and researchers, the Liberals must explain their actions here.”
Carr accused the Abbott and Turnbull governments of “using taxpayers’ money in an attempt to promote an anti-science conservative agenda”.