Gunnedah is on the cusp of leading national change in early childhood education, thanks to the good deed of a charitable investment banker from out of town.
A privately funded, multimillion-dollar, 10-year campaign called Every Gunnedah Child aims to ensure every five-year-old in Gunnedah is ready to start school.
The pilot program, co-ordinated by Keith Bryant from Sydney who acts as a representative for community-minded philanthropists, has been in the planning stage for the past two years but could be rolled out as early as next year.
“It’s social innovation with a capital ‘I’,” Mr Bryant said.
It follows alarming statistics by the 2015 Australian Early Development Census which showed 22 per cent of Australian five-year olds were deemed developmentally vulnerable.
Gunnedah has been chosen for the ambitious program as its Census figures on the issue matched the national average. It also helped having Gunnedah’s Carolyn Leys, with more than three decades of experience in the early childhood education field, spearheading the program locally.
“I’ve seen things stagnate for years and wanted to do something about it,” Ms Leys said. “I know there are lots of people in our community giving 150 per cent. But we need a collective approach to make this work. The whole town has to take this on.”
Key to the success of the Gunnedah program according to its concept paper, is developing local leadership so the town is in some form, responsible for raising all of its children.
The goal is reduce Gunnedah’s developmentally vulnerable to just five per cent and transfer the lessons learnt to other regional and urban communities across the country.
“The project aims to demonstrate how a broadly based locally-led campaign in a small country town with relatively good resources over a sustained period can produce outstanding social change,” the paper states.
Philanthropist, banker and horse stud owner, John Barnes, is providing the project capital through a foundation run in his name.
Current costs are $50-$100,000 but backers will need to double that figure in the coming months. Once up and running, project expenses could be as high as $500,000 per annum.
Despite the significant financial investment, Mr Bryant said this was the “most cost effective approach” to deliver real and sustainable outcomes for our children.
“There is no reason why Gunnedah can’t make this happen,” he said.