Addressing Problems in Basic Education Inside the Womb
The March of Dimes report has specific recommendations. They include well-constructed programs to improve nutrition, family planning services, and health education and to reduce substance abuse, sexually transmitted diseases, and exposure to environmental pollution.Preterm birth and low birth weight are problems. Trying to address these by changing curricula or adding two years of high school somehow misses the point. The problems at the beginning need to be solved at the beginning since later interventions are costly and oftentimes, ineffective.
Preterm birth and low birth weight affect basic education outcomes. There is ample research showing how low birth weight is associated with brain development as well as intelligence quotient (IQ). One example even manages to perform a near-experimental model: examining identical twins. The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA, by Raznahan and coworkers, first looks at identical twins to examine the relationship between birth weight and cognitive development. The study finds:
Here, we combine the power of a within monozygotic twin study design with longitudinal neuroimaging methods that parse dissociable components of structural brain development between ages 3 and 30 y, to show that subtle variations of the in utero environment, as indexed by mild birth weight (BW) variation within monozygotic pairs, are accompanied by statistically signiﬁcant (i) differences in postnatal intelligence quotient (IQ) and (ii) alterations of brain anatomy that persist at least into late adolescence. Greater BW within the normal range confers a sustained and generalized increase in brain volume, which in the cortical sheet, is speciﬁcally driven by altered surface area rather than cortical thickness.In simpler terms, the baby born with a heavier weight among the identical twin has a larger brain volume and a higher IQ. This difference persists up till the end of high school. With this in mind, it should now be clear why Ravitch writes the following in the chapter Begin at the Beginning:
...This is an excellent place to begin a genuine program of social reform. The research is clear . The need for action is clear. The short-term and long-term benefits are clear. There is a widespread consensus on how to address and remedy the problem....It is clearly wrong to think that a spiral curriculum, an inquiry-based approach, mother tongue based - multilingual education, no fomal subject of science in the early years, and adding years to high school can address problems in education the Philippines faces if some of these problems are due to preterm birth or low birth weight. It is likewise a fallacy to think that education is the best weapon against poverty. Evidently, the effects of poverty on education need to be mitigated first.