Additional mandatory kindergarten year planned

Many small children in Austria could soon be ordered to attend kindergartens for two years, the government coalition has said.

People’s Party (ÖVP) Integration Issues State Secretary Sebastian Kurz suggested yesterday (Weds) to expand the current mandatory one-year kindergarten scheme to reduce the risk of many kids fall behind at school due to poor language skills.

Kurz explained “every child that needs it” should attend kindergartens from the age of four. Kids living in Austria currently need to attend the institutions at least for the final year before they start school. The state secretary argued that children’s German would improve at kindergartens if a poor level of skills is detected two or three years before they are set to start school.

The coalition of Social Democrats (SPÖ) and the ÖVP currently transfers 70 million Euros to towns and communities to compensate their costs to provide a free of charge attendance of one year of kindergartens from the age of five.

ÖVP chief Michael Spindelegger vowed to “fully support” Kurz in the issue. “I think he’s right,” the party leader and foreign minister announced today. SPÖ Chancellor Werner Faymann also backed the suggestion to force kids with poor German to go to kindergartens from the age of four. Several government representatives also made clear that money matters will play a role in the issue.

Around 90 per cent of children aged four already attend kindergartens in Austria, according to Kurz whose nomination as the country’s first secretary for integration caused a stir last April. The ÖVP Vienna vice chief pointed out children should not undergo tests to determine whether their German was appropriate for their age. Kurz suggested they should be invited to kindergartens for one day at the age of three and a half to decide whether to order their parents to send them to kindergarten for two instead of just one year.

The state secretary’s appeal is part of plans to integrate immigrants better in the society. Studies have shown that six in 10 children with another mother tongue but German need extra support at a young age. Investigations have also revealed that 10 per cent of young German speakers should get additional assistance.

Now political decision-makers are pressed to carry on reforming the education of kindergarten nurses. Experts have said that an extra 1,500 to 2,000 young people are needed to start working in the branch to cope with the demand – which is on the rise despite a decline in birth rates. Poor wages have been identified as a key aspect that tempts interested women and men to choose other jobs than kindergarten pedagogues.

Austria’s nine provincial parliaments and the country’s towns and communities have called out for more financial support from the SPÖ-ÖVP administration for education and care expenses since towns and cities must come up for the costs of their kindergartens and schools. Five-year-olds can attend kindergartens for free for up to 20 hours a week across Austria. Four of the country’s nine provinces currently charge parents who send their kids to kindergartens from the age of four. Some regions offer subsidies to families with low incomes.