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David Elkind, a child development expert from Tufts University notes that the importance of early childhood education was discovered during the industrial revolution- a period that encouraged the introduction of women into the factory labor force. Since the advent of the industrial revolution, various researchers have come up with programs that support early childhood education being seen as the necessary first step to grasping basic literacy and numeracy skills. According to The Consultative Group on Early Childhood Education and Development- 57% of young children in developing countries have no access to preschool – 83% in Sub-Saharan Africa and 78% in the Arab region. This shows the low percentage of children enrolled into preschool in developing countries. In Nigeria, basic education is compulsory; to encourage enrollment into public primary schools, the Lagos State Government implemented the Yellow Card campaign and both the Osun and Kaduna State Governments ensured the children enrolled in public institutions got free meals. Although these initiatives are fantastic, it is also important to understand that learning starts from birth and there is so much a child can learn in their formative years. In developed countries several programs have been implemented to highlight the benefits of early childhood education.
The first of this program was called the “Head Start” Program and it was launched in the 1960s for low-income children. The title of the program was branded to create the illusion that education was a ‘race’ and that the earlier you started the earlier you finished. Lots of parents enrolled their children into the Kindergarten program and this led to a rise in the amount of children enrolled in childcare facilities. Before the introduction of the “Head Start” Program in the United States, Kindergarten was only required by 40 percent of the population for half a day. Over the years, that percentage has changed to reflect that 80 percent of the population now enrolls their children in childcare facilities for the full day. The high demand in early childhood education has forced various researchers and teachers to discover its importance by designing several social experiments showing how children exposed to early childhood education have the upper hand in literacy and numeracy.
Early childhood education focuses on ensuring young children between the ages of 0-5 learn the basic numeracy and literacy skills through play. Children who are taught numeracy and literacy using a playful approach develop their physical, emotional and intellectual intelligence. Early childhood education also enhances cognitive skills by improving the child’s creativity and problem solving skills. According to (Loeb, 2007), a professor at the Graduate School of Stanford “While genetic make up play a dramatic role, environmental factors including physical surroundings, communication, and nurturing all interact with children’s genetic endowment and play critical roles in their cognitive, social and emotional development”. The statement aims to disprove people who downplay the importance of early childhood education by claiming disparity in success is entirely as a result of difference in each child’s genetic make up. To emphasize the importance of this theory, (Hart and Risley, 1995) conducted a social science experiment on children from three different social classes- Professional, working class, and families living on welfare. The children from all the social classes were observed from age 8 months to 20 years. The parent’s social class determined the number of words spoken by each child. The professionals have a much higher vocabulary than the parents from working class or welfare group. As a result, the children from the professional group had a vocabulary of 1116 words while children from the welfare group had a vocabulary of 525 words. This shows that the children’s (professional group) language development improved mainly because they got the intellectual stimulation needed at the right stage.
Various researchers in the United States have shown that early childhood education fosters human, social and economic development. One of the most popular social experiments conducted in the United States is the High Scope Perry Preschool Study. A group of 123 children from low-income African American homes were selected to take part in the experiment. A particular group (58 candidates) was chosen to have access to a high quality early childhood education program while the second group (65 candidates) was not given access to the program. The project staff monitored and collected data on both groups from ages 3-40. The study states that the group given access to the program was more likely to complete High school “The program group significantly outperformed the no-program group on highest level of schooling completed (77% vs. 60% graduating from high school). Specifically, a much larger percentage of program than no-program females graduated from high school (88% vs. 46%)” (Lawrence et al, 200%). The study also noted that the group given access to the early childhood education program outperformed the group with no access on various intellectual and language tests.
The economic performance of the children exposed to the early childhood education program was also better than the control group. The study states “Significantly more of the program group than the no-program group were employed at age 40 (76% vs. 62%),
It was also discovered that the children who had access to the Perry School Program were less likely to be arrested. According to the study “The program group had significantly fewer lifetime arrests than the no-program group (36% vs. 55% arrested 5 or more times) and significantly fewer arrests for violent crimes (32% vs. 48% ever arrested), property crimes (36% vs. 58% ever arrested), and drug crimes (14% vs. 34% ever arrested)” (Lawrence et al, 2005).
India is another country that has realized the benefits of early childhood education. According to (Ohara, 2013) early childhood care and education programs that provide health services and nutrition are being developed to eradicate poverty by improving the physical development of the Indian child as well as encouraging intellectual and social development. The early childhood care and education programs were also designed to reduce the number of children dropping out of school, encourage children from poor families (especially girls) to attend school and empowering more women by encouraging them to join the workforce.
Various stakeholders have contributed their quota to ensuring slum communities in India have access to high quality early childhood care and education. A government organization in India, The Ministry of Women and Child Development has provided free “integration Child Development Services” in the area of education, health and nutrition to children in rural areas. The program yielded positive results with over 78 million participants taking part in the program. To ensure positive results, the government agency ensured the pre-school centers (called “Anganwadi” centers) were located close to elementary schools to ensure the smooth academic integration of the students. According to (Ohara, 2013) “the Indian government has implemented initiatives using budgets for the elementary school universalization project, focusing on a smooth transition from preschool education to elementary education. These include the relocation of Anganwadi centers close to elementary schools and adoption of the same time schedule for commencing the class as that of elementary schools. Anganwadi centers also provide education on childcare and nutrition for infants and toddlers to 18.4 million women who are pregnant or breast-feeding mothers, in order to prevent detrimental effects of these mothers’ poor health and literacy on the development of their babies”.
Many Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and private educational institutions also offer programs that provide early childhood care and education. According to (Kaul & Sankara, 2009) approximately 3 to 20 million children participate in early childhood care and education programs provided by NGOs. According to (Ohara, 2013) “Pratham, one of the NGOs, serves as a professional ECCE organization, by providing elementary school preparatory education for 90,000 children across 12 states in India, while conducting ECCE research and surveys, and providing training for Anganwadi teachers”. (Ohara, 2013) also states “Unlike elementary and secondary education, ECCE programs are not regulated or standardized by the government. Therefore, there is a large discrepancy in the ways in which ECCE providers deal with curricula, education quality, and teachers’ qualifications. The majority of ECCE programs provided by private educational institutions are unofficial education programs without the government’s supervision and instruction, and these are gradually expanding due to an increasing interest among parents in ECCE.”
Many parents in India recognize the importance of early childhood education. This has led to the increase in the number of private institutions providing early childhood care and education. According to (Ohara, 2013) “Some previous studies on India’s ECCE have suggested that children who received preschool education are more likely to continue elementary education (NCERT, 1993) and have better abilities of writing, sound recognition, object matching and classification (NIPCCD, 2006) compared to those who did not”.
In both countries it is evident that children who have access to early childhood education contribute to the social and economic development of the country. The children who participate in early childhood education programs are likely to earn more income, complete secondary school, score higher on intellectual and language tests and less likely to be arrested.
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