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The Royal Australasian College of Physicians is calling on both sides of NSW politics to commit to early childhood education for three-year-olds.

COVID Catch Up Campaign directly focuses on the increase in social media use in young children.

College president Jacqueline Small said the issue of early education should be a major topic for both sides of politics in the lead up to the state election.

“We know access to quality early learning has lasting impacts on children, and universal access is an important step to foster a more equitable society,” Dr Small said.

Research has shown nearly a quarter of children in Australia are arriving at kindergarten without the necessary foundational skills.

Dr Small said the issue was pressing in the wake of the pandemic, with many children missing out on vital socialisation and learning skills.

“The early years are really critical periods … soon after birth and in the first few years. So it’s important kids are exposed to learning and new environments,” she said. “The RACP is calling on the incoming government to prioritise early childhood education through a program dubbed the Kids COVID Catch Up Campaign.

Dr Small said it will focus on some of the bad habits picked up during lockdowns, including growing social media use and an increase in childhood obesity rates.

She said countries in Europe and parts of the US were offering two free years of pre-kindergarten, with promising results.

It is one of the proven strategies to help vulnerable kids, and the RACP is calling for a pilot program focusing on First Nations, multicultural and lower socio-economic communities.

The coalition announced back in November that a trial of free childcare for four-year-olds will be rolled out this year in seven locations highlighted as “childcare deserts”.

Families in Mount Druitt in Sydney’s west, Wagga Wagga in the Riverina, Kempsey and Nambucca in the north, Bourke in the far west, and Cobar and Coonamble the central west will be the first to benefit.