Levelling the Playing Field
When children’s language and mathematical scores are plotted against Parents’ Education, Cuba ranked best compared to other Latin American Countries. Why? Cuba’s Minister of Education attributed the success to the country’s early-childhood care centres and early- childhood education programming introduced decades earlier.
For Canada, plotting Literacy versus Socioeconomic Status, clearly those with “more” score higher. The same is true for other measures that underlie the domains integral to success in learning and living. These domains have been identified as physical health and well-being, social competence, emotional maturity, language and cognitive development, communication skills and general knowledge.
“Socioeconomic Status is social standing or class of an individual or group. It is frequently measured as a combination of education, income, and occupation. It often reveals inequities in access to resources, plus issues related to privilege, power and control.”
Levelling the playing field can be achieved by “investing in young children through early childhood development programs – ensuring they have the right stimulation, nurturing and nutrition – is one of the smartest investments a country can make to address inequality, break the cycle of poverty, and improve outcomes later in life.”
Different groups around the world have estimated the economic gain from investing in early childhood education. In 2014 the Executive Office of the President of the United States published a report that concluded that “existing research suggests expanding early learning initiatives would provide benefits to society of roughly $8.60 for every $1 spent, about half of which coming from increased earnings for children when they grow up”. In terms of levelling the playing field the study concluded “expanding access to high-quality early education to all would narrow the achievement gap between richer and less rich families.” In addition early childhood interventions can reduce the need for remedial education and can lower involvement with the criminal justice system.
The Conference Board of Canada concluded that expanding early childhood education and care to children under 5 years old in Canada could yield a $6 return for every $1 invested. The return on investment result from, in part, the children achieving a better education and more responsible employment, from paying more taxes, from being healthier, from being less likely to use the justice system, from being less dependent on social programs and from giving back. In addition, mom and dad are better able to manage their participation in the labour market.
James Heckman, University of Chicago, winner of the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel says the return on investment in early childhood education depends on how early you make it. It ranges up to $17 per $1 invested if it is made at the beginning of life.