CHILDREN between three and five should be attending 30 hours a week of formal early childhood education and care, in line with the European Commission's "Barcelona Targets", according to the peak body.
Early Childhood Australia, in its submission to the Productivity Commission Inquiry into Childcare and Early Learning, will ask the commission to consider bold new access targets for early childhood education and care.
The targets would involve improving participation rates of children aged between three and five attending 30 hours a week to 90 per cent by 2020.
In the submission to the Productivity Commission, they say we would need to attract an extra 60,000 children into ECEC by 2020 to reach the target. That's potentially close to 1000 additional centres to meet new capacity.
ECA says Australia is understood to be falling behind many European countries in terms of access to ECEC, particularly comparable European countries in the OECD. Without increases in enrolment and attendance of children in formal education and care, Australia will continue to lag behind in building human capital, national productivity and women's workforce participation.
When combined with preschool figures, ECA estimates that under 80 per cent of Australian children aged three to five are enrolled in early childcare and preschool, with less attending for 30 hours a week, which they see as the next goal.
A national partnership agreement on Universal Access to Early Childhood Education is in place to increase participation levels of children accessing early learning in the year before formal schooling.
This agreement is up for review this year.
"The states and territories have done a great job in achieving a number of the goals within the partnerships agreement," ECA chief executive Samantha Page told The Weekend Australian.
"This is the logical next step by enhancing the benefits from participation in early learning,"
"These are really ambitious targets - but the benefits are significant.
"To achieve 30 hours a week for children, we need to create places in areas of high demand. That's why we have proposed a capital grants scheme to encourage providers to build quality early learning centres in these areas.
"We also need to encourage families to use these services at a higher rate to ensure their children are getting the most out of their early childhood education," Ms Page said.
"The early years is when a child's brain is developing rapidly, and the evidence is clear that a quality early childhood education will have a long-term impact on a child's education and social performance.
"This is particularly crucial for children from disadvantaged families who continue to miss out on quality early learning and are suffering because of it."
Early childhood educator Katherine Vlasic, who works at Creative Play Early Learning Centre in Melbourne, said a quality education and care environment was fundamental to children's holistic development and wellbeing.
"Children's relationships and interactions with other children, families, educators and community all contribute to a sense of belonging within their environment, which is beneficial to children's overall education and care," she said.