Sowing the Seeds for Economic Growth in Oklahoma: Early Childhood Education and Its Tie to Workforce Development

Article excerpt

Research shows that the first five years of life is the most crucial time in the development of a child's brain. Whether foundations for many life skills are established at this time could pave the road to success - or failure.

Early childhood is a critical period of physical, language and cognitive development. It is also a time when children learn to regulate their behaviors, socialize with their peers and form attachments, said Debra Andersen, executive director for Smart Start Oklahoma, a statewide early childhood initiative.

Some of the skills employers find difficult to find while hiring are ones that develop in the first five years of life, according to an Oklahoma Workforce Employer Survey conducted in 2006 by the Governor's Council on Workforce and Economic Development. These skills include reading, writing, teamwork, communication and problem- solving skills.

Investments in quality early learning programs for younger children will have lasting effects that reduce costs later in life while enhancing economic growth, according to a report by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The report, Ready, Set, Go! Why Business Should Support Early Childhood Education, shows that for every dollar invested today, savings range from $2.50 to as much as $17 years ahead.

"Children who experience environments rich with language, reading, physical play and good parenting/caregiver practices are typically more prepared to succeed when they enter school," Andersen said.

"Research has exploded over the past 10-15 years in the field of early childhood. We know much more about how children's brains develop, how their interaction and experiences with the significant adults in their lives can shape their future behavior, how the early development of positive social emotional skills can impact school performance, relationships and becoming a productive and healthy parent, worker, and citizen in our state," she said.

"We know more about how stress can negatively impact children. Abuse, domestic violence, etc., can have long-term negative impacts on later outcomes. We must apply what research has identified to our practices and policies in the state in order to build a strong economic foundation for our state."

Smart Start Oklahoma has a network of 18 local community coalitions that focus on local strategies needed to support early childhood and promote school readiness.

"Each community has unique needs, different opportunities and challenges. These communities provide input into state and federal policy through Smart Start Oklahoma to assure their children are provided the early opportunities needed to be successful in school," Andersen said.

Smart Start Oklahoma has teamed up with The Potts Family Foundation and the Oklahoma Business Roundtable to develop the OKCEO (Oklahoma Champions for Early Opportunities) network - a group of concerned business leaders who make presentations to local organizations on the importance of early childhood investments for the economic growth of our state.

"Fifty-four percent of my business leaders said they already realize they are going to have difficulty in finding enough highly educated and skilled workers for the future," said Blake Wade, president of OKCEOs.

"No economy can succeed without a high-quality workforce. Research has shown the importance of individuals and the economy as a whole of both early childhood education as well as efforts to promote the lifelong acquisition of skills," Wade said. "Early intervention towards children has much higher returns than later interventions such as reduced public teacher ratios, public job training and convict rehabilitation programs. …

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