Preschool Access
Attending preschool can drastically improve the intellectual capacity of children. Research has demonstrated positive effects on learning and development in both the short and the long run.

A recent study from Northwestern University suggested that children from lower income families tend to perform significantly worse in the first years of elementary school. This is due to the fact that they usually did not have the opportunity to attend preschool.

Policy expert Whitmore Schanzenbach suggested that “by the time they reach kindergarten, disadvantaged children already show an achievement gap relative to their higher-income peers.”

Schanzenbach emphasized that “the poverty gap in school readiness appears to be growing as income inequality widens.”

Teachers at elementary schools have reported that children from less privileged families have more difficulty paying attention and exhibit more behavioral problems given no kind of education prior to elementary school.

This is because the state and the government usually do not focus their attention on expanding preschool access to children from marginalized sectors. They have concentrated mainly on improving education for children over five years of age.

According to Schanzenbach, a common proposal to bridge this gap is to make formal preschool accessible to poor children under the age of five. Given many ways to expand these educational programs, specialists at Northwestern designed a program that is cost-effective.

In their proposal, a well-developed framework would introduce the highest quality curriculum and nurturing assistance that would ultimately help these young children prepare themselves for further education.

It is important to emphasize that this is a project designed to be introduced in developing countries and rural sectors, where preschool access needs to be attainable.

Schanzenbach concluded that “the expansion of early education programs along these lines will lead to improved educational outcomes for disadvantaged children.” She added a list of other benefits which included lower crime rates, reduced teenage pregnancy and a decreased reliance on the social safety net.

Read Schanzenbach’s full study here.

Isabella Rölz

Sources: Brookings, U.S. Department of Education, NYTimes
Photo: U.S. News

In the years following the Bosnian War, Kosovo has struggled to get back on her feet economically.  A problem of particular severity is the state of early education in the country.  With more than 35% of the population under the age of 18, the education of children is vital to the fostering of a stable social and political future in Kosovo, but the public school system is structured in a way that makes it difficult for every child to reap the benefits of an education.

Unlike the K-12 model of the United States, public education in Kosovo is not provided, or mandatory, until age six when a child enters Primary school.  Prior to this, application to attend public preschool and kindergarten programs is something more akin to the American charter school system, in which admission is competitive.  This has a very real impact on the integration of Kosovar children into society.

According to a USAID article on the subject, “students who have received even some pre-primary education are better behaved, socialized, and engaged than their peers.”  With only 10% of children ages 3-5 attending public preschool in Kosovo, the social costs could be potent.  Similarly, 70% of Kosovar children ages 5-6 go to kindergarten, but that still puts 30%, three out of every ten children, at a social and academic disadvantage.

So what is the answer? The education system in Kosovo makes pre-primary education essentially inaccessible to a large portion of 3 to 6-year-olds.  Valbona Thaqi, an Albanian school teacher working in the country saw the problem and offered an answer of her own:  “Brillant”, a private nursery school and Kindergarten that she founded in 2010.

Over the last three years, Brilliant has grown from a small enterprise with only six students, to a substantial private institution servicing 60.  Thaqi identified an opportunity in the Young Entrepreneurs Program offered through USAID and was able to make her idea into a reality.  The Young Entrepreneurs Program supports owners of private pre-primary schools in Kosovo in an attempt to “fill the gap” that Kosovo’s public education system has neglected.

The YEP also provides financial support in the form of matching grants and financing options to entrepreneurs from outside the education field in Kosovo between the ages of 18 and 35.  In addition, the program offers practical business training free of charge to visionaries like Thaqi.  In 2013, Thaqi was able to replace the wood-burning stoves in her school with a central heating system, installed and paid for by USAID.  “Thanks to USAID I am sure I could easily add another 100 children,” stated Thaqi in a May 2013 interview, “The only real competition is the child’s grandparents.”

– Josh Forgét

Sources: USAID, Be in Kosovo, CIA World Factbook
Photo: Global Communities

Investing in the Future with Universal Pre-KIn his State of the Union address, President Obama called for action on something just as unprecedented as universal healthcare in America – universal preschool.

The White House has released an infographic sharing that at-risk children who do not receive a high-quality early education are 25 percent more likely to drop out of school, 40 percent more likely to become a teen parent, 50 percent more likely to be placed in special education, 60 percent more likely to never attend college and 70 percent more likely to be arrested for a violent crime.

The investment in preschools, therefore, means investing in the future of American life, according to an administration that has championed demands that every child one day receive an affordable college education, and who has also called for sharp restrictions to be placed on assault weapons as a result of increasingly sensationalized acts of gun violence.

The investment in early education may raise a generation out of poverty, as current reports claim that the United States provides, at the moment, some of the least access to the social mobility of the world’s utmost developed nation. This has proven disheartening to a society that functions on the ideals of the American Dream, which is that anyone can achieve anything if they work hard enough.

Investing in the future is a principle that is both bipartisan and essential to the capitalist identity of America. We can only hope that legislators can overcome their differences to invest in this preventative social program, as has been done in the states of Georgia and Oklahoma.

– Nina Narang

Sources: The Huffington Post, The Washington Post
Photo: Post University