Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Universal Pre-school: Worth Fighting For

There’s an emerging global consensus and expanding research literature that very early education matters, and is effective in determining life outcomes (abstract):

The Impacts of Expanding Access to High-Quality Preschool Education
Elizabeth U. Cascio, Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach

President Obama’s “Preschool for All” initiative calls for dramatic increases in the number of 4 year olds enrolled in public preschool programs and in the quality of these programs nationwide. The proposed program shares many characteristics with the universal preschools that have been offered in Georgia and Oklahoma since the 1990s. This study draws together data from multiple sources to estimate the impacts of these “model” state programs on preschool enrollment and a broad set of family and child outcomes. We find that the state programs have increased the preschool enrollment rates of children from lower- and higher-income families alike. For lower-income families, our findings also suggest that the programs have increased the amount of time mothers and children spend together on activities such as reading, the chances that mothers work, and children’s test performance as late as eighth grade. For higher-income families, however, we find that the programs have shifted children from private to public preschools, resulting in less of an impact on overall enrollment but a reduction in childcare expenses, and have had no positive effect on children’s later test scores.

Speaks for itself, I think.

The important point is this: over the long term, reducing income and wealth inequality depends on education. Meritocracy is only a viable strategy when everyone starts off on the same footing. But given that higher income families have a higher tendency to put their children through pre-school, that gives those children a head start which lasts into their teens and has ramifications for secondary and tertiary education.

So unless we move towards universal pre-school education, we’re handicapping children from lower and middle income families right at the get-go, and perpetuating an aristocracy of wealth.

Technical Notes

Elizabeth U. Cascio, Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach, “The Impacts of Expanding Access to High-Quality Preschool Education”,  NBER Working Paper No. 19735, December 2013


  1. i sent my 5-year old daughter to pre-school last year when she was 4. she really enjoyed school and during the holidays she'd ask to go to school even. She has mastered her ABCs, learned English and a smattering of Malay and Mandarin as well. Money well spent, i say.

    1. @dukuhead

      Good for you. At primary school, the syllabus already assumes that kids already know how to read and write BM and English. Without pre-school preparation, children will have already fallen behind before they even begin, and some never catch up especially for those with undiagnosed learning disabilities (dyslexia for example).

      Also, I would suggest paying attention to social interaction and vocabulary - studies show that non-cognitive development (language, interpersonal skills) takes root before the age of 6. Math, logic and science (cognitive skills), start developing later.

  2. Hey! Im the dude from the 2.6% thingie :P

    On this case, I wholeheartedly agree with you. Standard One syallabus already expect kids to know their ABC, 123 and even their Alif Baa Taa. I shudder to think how those with pre-school education would cope.

    Have a great weekend ahead!

    1. shikes! i meant to say:

      "I shudder to think how those WITHOUT pre-school education would cope."

      my bad. heheh