Preschool Education Only Benefits the Poor?

The municipality of Paete, Laguna provided a resolution that was meant as a guide for responsible parenthood and citizenship. Included in this code is a section that calls for collaboration between the town's Social Welfare and Development Office and other local officials in strengthening and widening preschool programs in the town. A daycare center has also been built in one of the upland communities of the town:

A daycare center is being constructed to serve children in an upland community in Paete, Laguna  (Photo taken February, 2009 - courtesy of Vice mayor Mutuk Bagabaldo). This new building is necessary since the old structure does not really provide a good setting for the pupils:
The old daycare building (Photo courtesy of  Barangay Captain Hensol Ponce)
An article on daycare published recently in the Slate, "The Early Education Racket", starts by stating something quite provocative:


"If you are reading this article, your kid probably doesn’t need preschool."



First, the title, then comes the above statement. The article implies that early childhood education has a specific purpose. It is like a medicine that is prescribed for a given set of symptoms. Reading through the entire article, however, one gets the impression that the author is simply trying to advice parents not to worry so much about selecting and choosing from exclusive preschool programs. Parents nowadays seem to want to provide all the edge they could give to their children. In a world obsessed with competition, it is no surprise that some parents would start as early as when their children turn three years old. Quite tangential to the main topic of the article are citations to scientific studies that examine the benefits of early childhood education. Among the studies mentioned is an article from the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry:

To read the entire article, please visit http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3283580/
Abstract 
Background 
Socially disadvantaged children with academic difficulties at school entry are at increased risk for poor health and psychosocial outcomes. Our objective is to test the possibility that participation in childcare – at the population level – could attenuate the gap in academic readiness and achievement between children with and without a social disadvantage (indexed by low levels of maternal education). 
Methods 
A cohort of infants born in the Canadian province of Quebec in 1997/1998 was selected through birth registries and followed annually until 7 years of age (n = 1,863). Children receiving formal childcare (i.e., center-based or non-relative out-of-home) were distinguished from those receiving informal childcare (i.e., relative or nanny). Measures from 4 standardized tests that assessed cognitive school readiness (Lollipop Test for School Readiness), receptive vocabulary (Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test Revised), mathematics (Number Knowledge Test), and reading performance (Kaufman Assessment Battery for children) were administered at 6 and 7 years.
Results 
Children of mothers with low levels of education showed a consistent pattern of lower scores on academic readiness and achievement tests at 6 and 7 years than those of highly educated mothers, unless they received formal childcare. Specifically, among children of mothers with low levels of education, those who received formal childcare obtained higher school readiness (d = 0.87), receptive vocabulary (d = 0.36), reading (d = 0.48) and math achievement scores (d = 0.38; although not significant at 5%) in comparison with those who were cared for by their parents. Childcare participation was not associated with cognitive outcomes among children of mothers with higher levels of education. 
Conclusions 
Public investments in early childcare are increasing in many countries with the intention of reducing cognitive inequalities between disadvantaged and advantaged children. Our findings provide further evidence suggesting that formal childcare could represent a preventative means of attenuating effects of disadvantage on children’s early academic trajectory.
This paper highlights one purpose of preschool education (which is quite opposite to how some parents view early childhood education as giving their children an edge or an advantage): To serve as an equalizer between rich and poor children. Specifically, the study involved children whose mothers have low educational attainment. This is interesting since in a previous post in this blog, "Out of School Children in the Philippines", the correlation between children leaving school and the educational attainment of the mother is quite strong. Another previous post in this blog, "Vocabulary and Learning", highlights one of the possible reasons behind learning gaps between advantaged and disadvantaged children: The quality of communication and attention children receive at home.

The Slate article brings this point quite clearly with the following paragraph:
In other words, a bad home situation becomes a much smaller problem when your kid goes to preschool; when you have a good home environment, preschool doesn’t really matter. (Granted, children from poor families tend to go to lower quality preschools than wealthy kids do, but for them, a bad preschool is usually better than nothing.)
For the Philippines, the important question is whether preschools really provide something that is better than nothing....





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