President Obama’s call, in his State of the Union address, for making preschool available to every four year old in the country is a welcome statement. Studies have proven beyond any doubt that children who attend preschool do far better when they reach kindergarten than those who were denied this benefit. To put it in monetary terms, the Institute for a Competitive Workforce, an affiliate of the United States Chamber of Commerce, has found that for every dollar invested in early childhood education, savings of up to $17 in the future are possible.Another way of defining the benefits of good preschooling can be found in a Cincinnati program known as Success 6 where effective preschool education has raised the volume of “ready to read” children entering kindergarten to 57%, a significant improvement over the 44% level of a few years ago. An interesting fact is that over 80% of these “ready to read” children continue to read at or above their age levels even at the end of the third grade. The significance of the is number lies in the fact that research shows that children who are not good readers by the time they reach the third grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school than children who can read at the appropriate age level. This is a testament to the long lasting results that effective preschooling provides.
The Growth Years
A child’s brain grows to about 85% of its full capacity in the first five years of life. This, coupled with the development of evaluation and assessment abilities, albeit underdeveloped, in the child, means that what is internalized by the age of five is what will remain as the foundation for further knowledge acquisition as the years pass.
The argument that educating children before they are of kindergarten age is damaging to them may be seen to have some at least partially valid points. But a carefully planned and effective preschooling program can overcome all of these. It is thought that making young children attend preschool regiments them too much. However, if done properly, preschool will help them to focus and refine their curiosity and natural enquiring instincts so that they are better able to find and retain the information and facts they are in search of. And the argument that preschool denies a child the essential freedom to play is easily countered. The knowledge and cognitive abilities that preschool provides to a child add to the value and meaning of the playing that is done. And the balance that naturally comes between preschool and less organized play activities at home allow for an understanding to develop of the difference between formal and informal activities. This in turn leads to an instinctive appreciation of the benefits that both have to offer.
We Cannot Afford To Be Left Behind
While the benefits that come from effective preschool education cannot be denied, it is often seen as affecting only the children who receive it. What is often not understood here in the USA is that the effect is on the nation and its future as a whole. While debate rages about universal preschool in the country, China is reported to have set itself a goal of ensuring that at least 70 % of the children in the country get 3 years of preschool education. India is spending huge amounts to modernize and increase the reach of its primary and preschool education system. Both countries are today prime movers of economic growth and are seen as the future economic superpowers. The focus that nations like these are placing on preschool as a means to ensure long term development and strength is something we cannot afford to ignore.