A good start for all children: the case for universal, accessible, high quality early childhood education

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Smith, AB 2012, 'A good start for all children: the case for universal, accessible, high quality early childhood education', Children, vol. 81, pp. 22-26.

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Eminent economists have argued that the public return on investment in high quality early childhood education (ECE) far exceeds the return on most projects that are currently funded as economic development, such as sports stadiums or relocating businesses (Rob Grunewald, Art Rolnick & James Heckman, cited by Calman & Tarr-Whelan, 2005, p. 15). Coming from a city that has just spent a great deal of money on building a stadium, I find it puzzling that it is so hard to persuade people that investing in children should be a high priority for public investment! Perhaps this is because the returns may take a dozen or more years to be realised, but that our election cycle comes every three years in New Zealand. Investment in early childhood education also brings greater returns than investment on later levels of education, which are much more costly (European Commission, 2011). A recent report sets out the cost-benefit evidence very clearly (Early Childhood Taskforce, 2011, p. 21), and concludes that “early childhood education represents a high-yielding social investment” (p. 28). Harvard University researchers argue that: Inexpensive services that do not meet quality standards are a waste of money. Stated simply sound policies seek maximum value rather than minimal cost. (National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, 2007, p.1) In this paper I will focus on the evidence that participation in high quality ECE has a long-term impact on children’s lifelong capacity for learning, forming relationships and contributing to society, and that it can equalize chances for children from different social and economic circumstances.

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