Early childhood education or preschool education is education for children in the early stages of their childhood before they join school. Several researches that have been conducted by neuroscientists, pediatricians and other stakeholders shows that the biggest portion of the brain architecture takes place in the early childhood years. Research studies have also found out that intellectual and emotional development is critical during the first three years of life. Maria Montessori was one of many educationists who believe that the foundation of human development is laid during the child’s early years.
She declared that: The most important period of life is not the age of university studies, but the first one, the period from birth to the age of six, (Pandor, 2008 para. 3). Many other educationists assert that the quality of education is determined in the first years of a child in school. Early Childhood Education Programs Preschool education or early childhood education is a quality education and it is beneficial to children from all economic and social groups. Development of quality early childhood programs should be emphasized as it can be viewed as a social and economic strategy.
Investing in these programs is therefore not only important to the child but also to the development of the state and the country at large. A research conducted by the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) in five states of the United States found out that “quality public preschool programs produce broad gains in children’s learning and development,” (NIEER, 2005 para. 4). According to the same study, state funded programs were found to have significant gains regardless of the child’s ethnic or economic and social background.
The effects of the preschool programs were estimated by testing the literacy skills, vocabulary and academic skills of the kindergarteners. A total of 5,071 children in 1, 320 classrooms were tested in either English or Spanish depending on the child’s strongest language. The impacts on mathematics, literacy and language were statistically significant compared to the children without the program. Vocabulary scores were 31 percent higher than gains of children without the program.
On mathematical skills which included basic skills such as counting money, simple additions and subtractions, number concepts and telling time, the gains increased to 44 percent. In print awareness the gains were 85 percent greater for children enrolled in state sponsored preschool programs compared to the growth of children who are not enrolled (NIEER, 2005). According to the NIEER study, participants at the age of 20 years were more likely to have cleared high school if they enrolled for the preschool programs.
They were less likely to have required remedial education and also less likely to have committed juvenile crimes which warrant arrests. With the unnecessary costs of remedial classes and expenditure for justice systems and in addition to the increased revenues, it was estimated that there was a return of $7 for every dollar that was invested. At 27 years of age, participants had gained a higher level of education and their earnings were higher than those who did not enroll for the early childhood school programs. The number of those who received the social services was significantly low and the numbers of arrests were fewer.
These studies were carried out on children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. The befits gained can be intertwined in the sense that once this child gains a higher level of education most likely the earnings will be high, consequently economic prospects will be high, improvement on financial decisions, improved health and housing (NIEER, 2008). An opportunity to live in a classroom community, interact and get along with people from various socioeconomic backgrounds can be considered as a social benefit for children from low socioeconomic backgrounds.
Learning how to get along with others will result to improved social skills and emotional competence. These programs set a stage and give a child preparedness to enroll for the formal education. Apart from improving on their communication skills and getting higher scores in school tests, they have lesser behavioral issues once they enroll in the formal learning process. When a child goes through the pre kindergarten learning they succeed in school and become good citizens, earn more, commit less crimes and pay more taxes.
“Every dollar invested in quality early care and education saves taxpayers up to $13. 00 in future costs,” (http://web. mit. edu/workplacecenter/docs/Full%20Report. pdf. n. d pp. 2). The success of the early child leaning relies heavily on the quality of the preschool programs. In an effort to improve the schools and the learning process, most states in United States have established public preschool programs to cater for less privileged and disadvantaged. Most of these programs are established on the principle that early intervention will help the child unleash his full potential.
For example the mission for Head Start is “to ensure that no child in America is trapped in poverty’s grasp,” (United Way of America, 2005 pp. 1). These programs have been criticized and their effectiveness has been questionable. From the findings of NIEER (2005) studies, “vocabulary gains were three or four times greater than those in the Head Start study,” (para. 9). In spite of this big difference in performance, such aspects such as the class size and the length of day remained the same.
This difference was attributed to high educational qualifications and good remuneration for teachers in state funded pre-kindergarten programs compared to Head Start. Almost all state funded programs studied in the five states required teachers to be licensed, have a certification in early childhood education and be a holder of a BA degree. In the case of Head Start the requirements half of the teachers were required to have a two-year Associate’s degree while the rest to have a Child Development Associate (requires only 120 hours of training to acquire CDA credential) or an equivalent (LIFESTYLENIEER, n.
d). Abbot, another preschool program in New Jersey was established to serve the highest poverty districts within the state. Substantial resources have been invested in the school and NIEER annual report rated it as one those with highest quality standards nationwide. According to the Abbot preschool program longitudinal effects study by Frede et al (2007), “the results presented provides clear evidence that by participating in a high-quality program regardless of auspice, children are improving in literacy and math at least until the end of the kindergarten year,” (pp. 35).
It therefore remains clear that high standard and accountability are key factors to the success of these programs. Recruitments of qualified and well educated teachers as has been observed in performing preschool programs are instrumental in guaranteeing good quality. These teachers must be adequately compensated to boost their morale and hence increasing productivity. The classes should be manageable. This can only be achieved by having a reasonable child to teacher ratio. Finally there should be strong supervision to ensure that standard and quality of learning is uncompromised.
Conclusion All children are entitled to quality education. From the studies conducted a disadvantaged child is likely to gain more from preschool program. If these programs are expanded more disadvantaged children will enroll and they will develop positive peer effects when they enroll for the formal school learning. “Failing to invest sufficiently in quality early care and education shortchanges taxpayers because the return on investment is greater than many other economic development options,” (http://web. mit. edu/workplacecenter/docs/Full%20Report. pdf. n. d pp. 2).
There should be universal large-scale and state wide programs to benefit the minority and the poor. Reference: Early Childhood Education for All, a Wise Investment, retrieved on 20th July 2008 from http://web. mit. edu/workplacecenter/docs/Full%20Report. pdf. Frede E, Jung K, Barnett W. S, Lamy, C. E & Figueras, A. (2007): The Abbott Preschool Program Longitudinal Effects Study (Apples). Retrieved on 20th July 2008 from: http://nieer. org/resources/research/APPLES. pdf LIFESTYLENIEER (n. d): Economic Benefits Of Quality Preschool Education for America’s 3- And 4-Year Olds.
Retrieved on 20th July 2008 from: http://nieer. org/resources/facts/index. php? FastFactID=6 Martina, A (2008): Column: Early Connections Are Key For Infants To Thrive. Retrieved on 20th July 2008 From: http://detnews. com/apps/pbcs. dll/article? AID=/20080715/OPINION03/807150398/100 National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) (2005):New Study Shows High Quality State Pre-K Programs Improve Language and Math Abilities of Children of All Backgrounds: State Programs with Higher Teacher Qualifications Outperform Head Start , retrieved on 20th July 2008 from http://nieer.
org/mediacenter/index. php? PressID=46 Pandor N (2008): A call to focus on firm foundations for learning, Journal of Education, Vol. 8. Issue No. 11, pp 21-27, Retrieved on 20th July 2008 from http://www. anc. org. za/ancdocs/anctoday/2008/text/at11. txt United Way of America (2005): Early Childhood Education, retrieved on 20th July 2008 from http://www. liveunited. org/_cs
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