Victoria’s new kinder rating scheme delivers a tick to some, a kick to others


Victorian Minister for Early Childhood Ingrid Stitt said the initiative would make it easier for parents to find a good quality kindergarten program.

“Victorian families can simply look for the kinder tick to find a teacher-led kindergarten program that supports their child’s learning and development and suits their needs,” Ms Stitt said.

An estimated 2600 childcare centres will receive the tick, including sessional kindergartens and long day care centres that offer 25 hours of integrated kindergarten.

The tick is unrelated to the established national quality standard for childcare and early learning services, which is run by the Australian Children’s Education & Care Quality Authority.

Early Learning and Care Council of Australia chief executive Elizabeth Death said a tick system for Victoria would provide clarity on which childcare centres also offer kindergarten programs with a tertiary-qualified teacher.

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“It cuts through some of the myths that currently exist, that you need to move your child from a quality early learning centre into a stand-alone kinder to gain access to a kinder program,” Ms Death said.

Ms Death said centres that fell short of the state government’s new standards risked losing enrolments if they didn’t improve the quality of their kindergarten service.

“They need to lift their game,” she said.

Merri Community Child Care Centre director Helen Evdokimou said the centre, which offers all-day childcare with an integrated kinder program, would display the tick to give its families added confidence.

“We do OK with enrolments, we have been a centre of choice for many families, so I think it will probably reinforce it for some,” Ms Evdokimou said.

“Ultimately, the tick is a great thing to promote kinder.”

But some centres will be not get the tick of approval, despite meeting or even exceeding national quality standards, because they do not qualify for the government’s free kinder program.

Brookville Kindergarten is a not-for-profit, community-run kindergarten in Toorak, which exceeds the national quality standard for childcare but also charges annual fees of more than $2122 per child, making it ineligible for the free kinder program.

“Our costs are higher because we run longer day programs, hire high-quality staff and have healthy child-to-teacher ratios,” Brookville president Shona Brady said.

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The kindergarten is surveying its parents about whether they are prepared to make a donation to cover the gap between their fees and the government’s cap for accessing free kinder.

If all parents agree, Brookville will sign up to the free kinder program, saving parents about $2000 in fees and enabling it to use the tick.

The government has capped the kinder subsidy at $2122 per child, and stipulated that any centre that charges higher fees will not be able to charge parents a gap fee to cover the difference.

This leaves up to 9 per cent of sessional kindergartens ineligible to access free kindergarten, the Department of Education and Training has estimated.

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Using robotic assistance to make colonoscopy kinder and easier — ScienceDaily


Scientists have made a breakthrough in their work to develop semi-autonomous colonoscopy, using a robot to guide a medical device into the body.

The milestone brings closer the prospect of an intelligent robotic system being able to guide instruments to precise locations in the body to take biopsies or allow internal tissues to be examined.

A doctor or nurse would still be on hand to make clinical decisions but the demanding task of manipulating the device is offloaded to a robotic system.

The latest findings — ‘Enabling the future of colonoscopy with intelligent and autonomous magnetic manipulation’ — is the culmination of 12 years of research by an international team of scientists led by the University of Leeds.

The research is published today (Monday, 12 October) in the scientific journal Nature Machine Intelligence

Patient trials using the system could begin next year or in early 2022.

Pietro Valdastri, Professor of Robotics and Autonomous Systems at Leeds, is supervising the research. He said: “Colonoscopy gives doctors a window into the world hidden deep inside the human body and it provides a vital role in the screening of diseases such as colorectal cancer. But the technology has remained relatively unchanged for decades.

“What we have developed is a system that is easier for doctors or nurses to operate and is less painful for patients. It marks an important a step in the move to make colonoscopy much more widely available — essential if colorectal cancer is to be identified early.”

Because the system is easier to use, the scientists hope this can increase the number of providers who can perform the procedure and allow for greater patient access to colonoscopy.

A colonoscopy is a procedure to examine the rectum and colon. Conventional colonoscopy is carried out using a semi-flexible tube which is inserted into the anus, a process some patients find so painful they require an anaesthetic.

Magnetic flexible colonoscope

The research team has developed a smaller, capsule-shaped device which is tethered to a narrow cable and is inserted into the anus and then guided into place — not by the doctor or nurse pushing the colonoscope but by a magnet on a robotic arm positioned over the patient.

The robotic arm moves around the patient as it manoeuvres the capsule. The system is based on the principle that magnetic forces attract and repel.

The magnet on the outside of the patient interacts with tiny magnets in the capsule inside the body, navigating it through the colon. The researchers say it will be less painful than having a conventional colonoscopy.

Guiding the robotic arm can be done manually but it is a technique that is difficult to master. In response, the researchers have developed different levels of robotic assistance. This latest research evaluated how effective the different levels of robotic assistance were in aiding non-specialist staff to carry out the procedure.

Levels of robotic assistance

Direct robot control. This is where the operator has direct control of the robot via a joystick. In this case, there is no assistance.

Intelligent endoscope teleoperation. The operator focuses on where they want the capsule to be located in the colon, leaving the robotic system to calculate the movements of the robotic arm necessary to get the capsule into place.

Semi-autonomous navigation. The robotic system autonomously navigates the capsule through the colon, using computer vision — although this can be overridden by the operator.

During a laboratory simulation, 10 non-expert staff were asked to get the capsule to a point within the colon within 20 minutes. They did that five times, using the three different levels of assistance.

Using direct robot control, the participants had a 58% success rate. That increased to 96% using intelligent endoscope teleoperation — and 100% using semi-autonomous navigation.

In the next stage of the experiment, two participants were asked to navigate a conventional colonoscope into the colon of two anaesthetised pigs — and then to repeat the task with the magnet-controlled robotic system using the different levels of assistance. A vet was in attendance to ensure the animals were not harmed.

The participants were scored on the NASA Task Load Index, a measure of how taxing a task was, both physically and mentally.

The NASA Task Load Index revealed that they found it easier to operate the colonoscope with robotic assistance. A sense of frustration was a major factor in operating the conventional colonoscope and where participants had direct control of the robot.

James Martin, a PhD researcher from the University of Leeds who co-led the study, said: “Operating the robotic arm is challenging. It is not very intuitive and that has put a brake on the development of magnetic flexible colonoscopes.

“But we have demonstrated for the first time that it is possible to offload that function to the robotic system, leaving the operator to think about the clinical task they are undertaking — and it is making a measurable difference in human performance.”

The techniques developed to conduct colonoscopy examinations could be applied to other endoscopic devices, such as those used to inspect the upper digestive tract or lungs.

Dr Bruno Scaglioni, a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Leeds and co-leader of the study, added: “Robot-assisted colonoscopy has the potential to revolutionize the way the procedure is carried out. It means people conducting the examination do not need to be experts in manipulating the device.

“That will hopefully make the technique more widely available, where it could be offered in clinics and health centres rather than hospitals.”



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Victorian kids to get free kinder for term 4 as part of early childhood boost


Sessional kindergarten in Victoria will remain free for families in term 4 under a $26.7 million support package for early childhood education.

The package will help parents with the cost of fees, with payments of around $500 per child, at a cost of $13 million.

It also aims to protect the financial viability of kindergartens, some of which have been providing remote learning during the stage 4 restrictions.

The money will go to local government, community-based groups and kinder provided in schools.

The funding was announced as the state reported 28 new coronavirus infections in the previous 24 hours, the lowest increase in cases in about three months.

There were an additional eight deaths, six of which were linked to aged care.

Regional Victoria has moved to step three of the coronavirus roadmap.

Transition to primary school to be ‘flipped’

Kinders are scheduled to re-open on October 5.

Education Minister James Merlino also outlined a $4 million plan to help kids make the transition from kinder to primary school next year.

Normally, kinder kids would take day trips to visit their local primary schools to prepare for the next step into prep.

Mr Merlino said this year the program would be flipped, and teachers would visit the kindergartens.

“Teachers will … engage with their children and engage with the families and make sure the kids are ready for a successful transition,” he said.

There will be a focus on engaging children with disabilities, as well as those from Aboriginal or non-English speaking backgrounds.

About 5,300 highly vulnerable children will be able to access an extra five hours of kindergarten per week, Mr Merlino said, to help them catch up on missed or disrupted learning.

“We’re talking about 5–7 per cent of children who go to 4-year-old kinder. We’ll target those services that have a high proportion of disadvantaged children,” he said.

Temperature testing will be a feature of primary school when preps finally return to the classroom.(ABC News: Simon Tucci)

‘Not a normal year’

The package also extends the grants for cleaning and hygiene at pre-schools, which have been available throughout the lockdown.

“This is not a normal year,” the Minister said. “We’re going to make sure that this is a successful transition year for those kids and their families.”

The Victorian Government is moving to fully fund three-year-old kinder as well.

The schools that already have that funding will also get free kinder for term four.

There is an additional $3 million in fee relief for three-year-old programs that have not already been funded.

In regional Victoria, the start of school will be moved forward due to the change in restrictions and October 5 will be the first day of term four.

Mr Merlino said schools would make a local decision about when prep students start.

The Minister acknowledged concerns about grade six students not being able to return to school.

“We’re not making any changes,” he said.

“The priority cohorts are the little kids, because they’re the hardest in terms of a home learning environment, and senior secondary and special needs [students].”

Mr Merlino said his own daughter was in year seven and, while he understood it was a milestone year, the decisions were being made on the best of advice from health experts.



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