Early education is positively correlated to higher graduation, higher employment, and lower incarceration rates.
Preschool Education and Its Lasting Effects: Research and Policy Implications, W. Steven Barnett, Rutgers University, 2008
In 2013, President Barack Obama called for making preschool available to every 4-year-old in America, opening a national discussion that continues to permeate the front page of every U.S. newspaper. Eighteen months later, the newly elected Mayor of New York City succeeded in enrolling 50,000 4-year- olds in preschool. China recently set a goal of giving its children three years of preschool education by the year 2020.
Why all this sudden attention on early education? And why should it matter to each of us that every child in Romania be attending gradinita2?
The international data is undeniable: children whose minds are challenged in early childhood do much better when they enter school, and this makes an enormous difference for their later success in life. From birth to age 5, a child’s brain undergoes its most rapid growth and development. This period sets the stage for all later learning and adult functioning.
Studies have shown that well-educated parents talk to their children more often, use a wider and more varied vocabulary, and speak more positively to their children than parents with low education levels. And of course, the better educated are more likely to read to their children from an early age.
So it is hardly surprising that children who are exposed to early language and books become better students in school – and more employable in adulthood.
According to the World Bank, 77% of Romania’s children are enrolled in gradinita but only 37% of Romania’s high-risk children are enrolled3. All across Romania, children from the poorest quartile of the population enter school without the most basic literacy skills (such as the ability to identify ten letters of the alphabet). Their homes are devoid of books and their parents are not even aware of the importance of talking to their children, much less reading to them. Unlike the print- rich homes of better educated families, their homes may have no printed matter at all. Thus, these children enter the school system far behind their peers and are unable to ever catch up.“School After School”programs just aren’t enough to close the gap, or more accurately, the gulf that has already separated poor rural children from their middle-class urban peers by the time they enter clasa pregatitoare.
This wide gap, although not “repairable”, IS preventable. The solution begins with quality early education. The skills gulf is not just a problem for the poor, on the wrong side of the gap – it creates a social and economic burden that must be borne by educated, productive members of society. Doing the right thing for one’s own children is essential, but if we do not do the same for the children of the uneducated and socially marginalized, our legacy to our own children will be a society with built-in costs and handicaps that stifle Romania’s overall competitiveness, as well.
2 Gradinita is the Romanian term for preschool & kindergarten (age 3-5).
3 Toward an Equal Start: Closing the early learning gap for Roma Children in Eastern Europe, World Bank, 2012