Academic journal article Australian Journal of Education

Lifelong Effects of Attendance at Kindergarten Union Preschools in South Australia

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Education

Lifelong Effects of Attendance at Kindergarten Union Preschools in South Australia

Article excerpt

Introduction

Long-term social outcomes from centre-based educational early childhood programs

There is growing evidence that centre-based early childhood programs lead to lasting, wide-ranging social benefits, including enhanced educational attainment, reduced teenage pregnancy, improved employment opportunities and a reduction in crime (Barnett, 1995; Karoly, Kilburn, & Cannon, 2005; Yoshikawa, 1995). The evidence for these social gains has led to interest in the potential benefits to individuals and society of early childhood development interventions. These benefits are thought to extend beyond the education sector to the fields of economics and population health, given the strong links between social gains and both economic participation in society (Heckman & Masterov, 2004) and health gains (Irwin, Siddiqi, & Hertzman, 2007; Kuh, Power, Blane & Bartley, 2004). Despite this potential for great societal benefit across multiple life domains, only a handful of studies report on the potential long-term benefit to society of early childhood development interventions.

The majority of evidence for long-term benefits of early childhood development interventions comes from evaluations of comprehensive centre-based preschool services for socially disadvantaged children in the USA (Campbell et al., 2008; Garces,Thomas & Currie, 2002; Reynolds et al., 2007), with the oldest age of follow-up at 40 years (Schweinhart et al., 2005). These studies represent a range of different intervention types delivered to children of different ages, and perhaps not surprisingly provide a mixed picture of beneficial outcomes. The evidence is most consistent on the effects of preschool participation on educational attainment (Palfrey et al., 2005; Reynolds,Temple, Robertson & Mann, 2001; Schweinhart et al., 2005) with 7.7-17% more preschool participants completing school in the Perry Preschool study, Brookline Early Education Project and the Chicago Child Parent Centres study. There was no increased rate of high school completion for participants in the randomised controlled Abecedarian study (Campbell, Ramey, Pungello, Sparling & Miller-Johnson, 2002) or in the African American sub-cohort in a Head Start study (Garces, Thomas & Currie, 2002). College attendance has been found to be consistently greater in preschool attendees (from 4.7 to 22% more) (Campbell et al., 2002; Reynolds et al., 2007) in the Abecedarian and Chicago Child Parent Centres studies. The evidence on income outcomes for preschool participants is more mixed, with non-comparable outcomes used across different studies. There is some evidence for participants having a lower risk of being in a low-income group for some (Palfrey et al., 2005; Reynolds et al., 2007; Schweinhart et al., 2005) but not other studies (for example, Garces, Thomas & Currie, 2002). Employment outcomes also vary across studies with some showing no employment benefits (Reynolds et al., 2007) and others reporting more preschool participants currently employed and more in skilled jobs (Campbell et al., 2002). Only the Perry Preschool Program study and a sub-cohort of the Brookline Early Education Project study found benefits for participants in less receipt of public aid (Palfrey et al., 2005; Schweinhart et al., 2005). As such, while there is good evidence for enhanced educational attainment in this homogeneous USA population, there is less clear evidence of the effect of early childhood development interventions on income, employment and receipt of public assistance.

The benefits of early childhood development interventions in countries outside of the USA are less well described. A systematic review of their effect in developing countries found only three studies that examined long term outcomes of early childhood development interventions, all of which demonstrated improved performance in high school (Grantham-McGregor et al., 2007). It is unclear whether the results of these studies are generalisable to countries such as Australia with different health and social service systems and whether the benefits persist into later adulthood. …

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