Gillard opens SA's early education inquiry

Providing the best early education and care for society's youngest children raises a complex set of issues, but all can be solved by harnessing the intelligence and thoughts of the wider community, former prime minister Julia Gillard says.

Ms Gillard has opened the first public hearings in South Australia's Royal Commission into Early Childhood Education and Care.

The inquiry was a key promise of the incoming Labor state government last year along with a pledge to deliver universal preschool by 2026, provide better access to out-of-school care and increase workforce participation through improved access to child care.

Ms Gillard told the commission on Wednesday the science and understanding of brain development was increasingly prompting societies to examine what could be done to provide children the best possible start in life.

"We know from neuroscience and so much more that brains develop quickly in our youngest children and that the pathways created in those early years are very determinative of what will happen later in life," she said.

"Children are more than little pupils and the science of brain development tells us that children thrive the most if they are in an environment of care.

"If they experience safety and security, particularly secure attachments to adults and they are shielded from environments of stress and abandonment."

As well as speaking with experts in education and children development, the former PM said much of the commission's work would be about families, understanding that opportunities for children could only be taken up if families could access them.

"And accessing them can be quite complex for families, depending on where they live, who they are and the resources they have to bring to the task," she said.

"I'm sure many parents and many families right now are contemplating the struggle, juggle of this year for themselves and their children as they embark on a new school year and a new year of work and potentially child care for their youngest children.

"There are a set of quite complex issues in front of us, but I am absolutely sure that while these issues are complex, they are solvable.

"They will be solvable by harnessing the best of intelligence and thoughts from a wide cross-section of the community."

Counsel Assisting Sarah Attar told the inquiry early years of a child's life had a crucial and lasting effect on wellbeing, health, education, employment and social and economic status.

She said the commission's first round of hearings would try to reach an understanding of factors that both disrupted and supported child development.

"Such an understanding is crucial to the task of this royal commission in determining how quality pre-school programs can be delivered," she said.

"Because universally accepted research tells us that quality pre-school programs are the ones that make a difference."

Since Ms Gillard's appointment as royal commissioner in October, the inquiry has taken hundreds of responses from parents, educators and other community members.

As well as academics and experts, it will also hear from those working in the field including childcare directors and educators.

Ms Gillard is due to present her final report to the government in August this year.