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News - World Headlines

Early Childhood Education in the year before starting school does not give disadvantaged children and working parents the boost advocates say it does

After reading the perspective below - would you agree that in NZ focusing on participation in ECE in the year before school is leaving it too late?  Is the quality of the home environment given enough emphasis over the importance of ECE participation and funding?  

world news on early childhood educationThe push for universal access to fully funded early childhood education programmes (known as Pre-Kindergarten in the US) continues to gain steam around the United States.

Advocates are using two primary arguments to accelerate the expansion of early childhood education in the year before children start school.

The first argument is the brain science argument, which goes like this: "Science tells us that the first five years are the most important period of a child's learning and development. Pre-K gives disadvantaged children the strong early start that a growing body of brain research clearly shows they need."

The second is the child care argument, which you also may have heard: “Low-income families are desperate for affordable, high quality child care. Pre-K helps give working parents the child care they so badly need.”

Both these arguments sound great, and they're proving to be pretty effective. The problem, though, is that a closer look reveals they're both very wrong.

Brain science does not tell us that children should go to pre-K. What brain science does tell us is that the earliest years of a child's life matter a great deal. Starting at birth, the environments young children are in and, most especially, the adults they interact with have a profound, lasting impact on their healthy development and lifelong wellbeing.

But none of that has anything to do with sending children to school when they're four years old. Home environments have a much more significant impact on children.

Growing research underscores that gaps between disadvantaged children and their more advantaged peers emerge long before children are old enough for pre-K. For example, Stanford University researchers recently found that "[b]y 18 months of age, toddlers from disadvantaged families are already several months behind more advantaged children in language proficiency."

Pre-K does not address low-income working families' need for child care. Parents who are working full-time often need child care as much as 10 hours a day, five days per week, 52 weeks per year, starting when their children are infants. And many lower-paying jobs have non-traditional, variable hours, requiring child care that's available literally 24 hours per day.

* This is an abridged copy of an article published by US News, October 14, 2016, titled - “What Pre-K Evangelists Get Wrong” by Katharine Stevens


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