Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Take a Giant Step: Investing in Preschool Education in Emerging Nations: As the Global Economy Expands, Emerging Nations Are Finding That Focusing on Universal Primary Education Is Not Sufficient, Mr. Levine Argues. They Are Increasingly Coming to See the Value of Investing in Early Care and Education as Well

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Take a Giant Step: Investing in Preschool Education in Emerging Nations: As the Global Economy Expands, Emerging Nations Are Finding That Focusing on Universal Primary Education Is Not Sufficient, Mr. Levine Argues. They Are Increasingly Coming to See the Value of Investing in Early Care and Education as Well

Article excerpt

HE SPEED at which globalization and technological innovation have transformed and "flattened" economic, political, and social relationships in the past decade requires a new approach to investments related to early childhood. While most of the international education and child development community, led by UNICEF, has focused during this period on the critical importance of universal primary education, compelling research findings have made it clear that, to best serve the long-term interests of emerging nations, a different emphasis is necessary. We must recognize the urgent need for greater investment in preschool education--an essential engine for expanding human potential and accelerating economic growth in those nations now poised to become the next leaders of the global economy. (1)

Increased investment in preschool education is especially important to meet the needs of the world's most populous nations, including China, India, Brazil, and Indonesia. By 2015 these four countries combined will educate more than 10 times the number of children educated in the United States. (2) Many of these nations have made strong commitments to and established early "best practices" for promoting child health and good nutrition but remain far behind more developed countries in their capacity to prepare children for primary school. By building on the findings of experimental research into the elements of high-quality early care and education (ECE) and on our knowledge of how children's minds and bodies learn, grow, and survive, even under adverse conditions, we can now more confidently design new early learning initiatives for use internationally. (3)

THE CASE FOR INVESTMENT IN EARLY CARE AND EDUCATION

Research in various disciplines has demonstrated how and why high-quality early learning opportunities and activities that promote healthy development matter for children, families, communities, and the society at large. While most of the longitudinal research on early intervention programs has been conducted in the U.S., significant child development research in countries like China, India, and Brazil (4) and program evaluations in Europe and Canada have led to similar conclusions.

* From birth to age 5, children rapidly acquire capabilities that form the building blocks of their subsequent development. In addition to making remarkable linguistic and cognitive gains at this stage, young children exhibit dramatic progress in constructing their emotional, social, regulatory, and moral capacities. The critical dimensions of early development are intertwined; each requires focused attention. (5)

* During a child's early years, a "growth trajectory" in learning, health, and emotional development gains momentum. Interrupting this trajectory can result in the need for powerful and expensive interventions later. (6)

* In this era of globalization, many traditional relationships among children, families, schools and other community institutions, and the economy are rapidly transforming, and the needs of young children are not being addressed adequately. (7)

* In developing countries, "child survival" programs that concentrate on reducing infant mortality rates, increasing immunization rates, improving nutrition, and providing clean water and sanitation services have produced long-term economic benefits. (8) In the U.S., high-quality ECE programs have produced significant benefits for low-income families in terms of increased achievement, decreased rates of grade retention, fewer special education referrals, and lower crime, delinquency, and dropout rates. (9) These outcomes indicate that emerging nations could further their development by bolstering their current efforts on behalf of children with more investment in early care and education.

EMERGING NATIONS' FIRST STEPS

In contrast to the U.S., Canada, and highly developed countries in Europe, most emerging nations have begun only recently to systematically develop and finance educational programs for children aged 3 to 6. …

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