Children who did not receive preschool education were 70% more likely to be arrested for a violent crime by the time they turned eighteen, says a 15-year longitudinal study by the ‘Economic Opportunity Institute’ titled ‘The Link between Early Childhood Education and Crime and Violence Reduction’ at Chicago.
Colloquially called the ‘school to prison pipeline, experts help decode the science behind this?
The jury is out - young children thrive when they have secure, positive relationships with adults who are capable of supporting their development and learning. This is because early childhood is a sensitive time. Not all the learning happens as per a set plan - children learn in ways that are pretty much their own. For eg: the importance of trial and error, informal experimentation and of course encouragement cannot be undermined.
“Children are fundamentally experiential; they learn by doing rather than just thinking about things. They want to touch, hold, break, feel and express themselves,” says Ashish Jhalani, Head of Square Panda India, a neuroscience-based EdTech company. “ An activity that is shared with educators and peers is an important opportunity for the child’s cognitive growth.”
So what are the anchors that pre-schooling provides
Neuroscientists have emphasised time and again that a child’s experiences, even before birth, can shape everything from his/her/their ‘learning and capacities to physical and mental health’. The brain is ‘built from the bottom up’, simple and complex brain circuits form the brain architecture and so on.
Cognitive neuroscientist, Dr Vera Blau McCandliss explains, “Activities around a child can shape everything from his/her/their ‘learning and capacities to physical and mental health’. During the first couple of years in human life, the brain is ‘built from the bottom up’, simple and complex brain circuits form the brain architecture and so on. Pre-schools can help build foundational skills – which include academic, social and emotional skills which can provide big returns on investment in the long run to the child.”
The desire to stay in school
The child’s pre-literacy, prewriting and pre-math skills have a direct impact on school readiness.
Development proceeds in ways that are both rapid and cumulative, with early progress laying the foundation for future learning. Enriching experiences in the early years will support children’s healthy development. In contrast, serious stress or adversity can have harmful effects on the growing brain and a child’s developmental progress. The preschool may be the only escape or ‘steady anchor’ for a child who belongs to a toxic home environment. As they are encouraged to experiment, they build confidence. They build the desire to ‘stay in school’ which is a safe space, as opposed to dropping out.
With time, as they progress through their classes into adulthood, having a goal to work towards and peers who are also pursuing important things keeps them away from mischief.
Cognition between right and wrong
Research by Jonathan J. Heckman of the University of Pennsylvania in 2013 finds that investment in the early education of disadvantaged children pays extremely high returns down the road. It not only improves their cognitive abilities but also crucial behavioural traits like sociability, motivation, and self-esteem. His studies have followed children through their adult lives and confirm enormous payoffs for investments in ECCE, whether measured in improved success in college, higher income, quality of life, or even lower incarceration rates.
Also, the idea of cognitive learning itself implies ‘cognition’ on what's right and what is wrong.
Main agenda globally - Early Childhood Education
It seems that if we do not build pre-schools, we have to build prisons. A report by Fight Crime: Invest in kids based on evidential circumstances titled, ‘Investing in Kids Will Help Prevent Crime’ in America released in 2020 states that children who did not participate in preschool were 70 per cent more likely to be arrested for violent crime by the time they turn 18. It further advocates, making high-quality early care and education available to all kids from birth to age five from families with low income helps children get on a better track.
What India seems to have lacked so far, is a lack of political support for pre-school education; nutrition has always been the focus.
India is a curious case - because here ECCE is not an election agenda, unlike at the global level. In the US, preschool education is an election issue. Some candidates argue for universal preschool, while others believe that parents should receive tax credits to help make childcare more affordable. The current VP, California Senator Kamala Harris was supportive of The Child Care for Working Families Act, introduced in 2019. Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren’s, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Mayor Pete Buttigiegare also supportive.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer or Chief Finance minister, the UK, Rishi Sunak during the 2021 autumn budget said, “We know that the first thousand and one days of a child’s life are some of the most important in their development. I passionately believe that we have a duty to give young families and their children the best possible start in life. – which is why I’m thrilled that this investment will guarantee that thousands of families across England are given support to lead healthy and happy lives.” The budget also reaffirmed £150 million for the training of early years staff to support children’s learning and development.
In Singapore, Home Minister, K. Shanmugan said, “We want to give every child a good start and the chance to succeed right from the beginning. That is the reason we want to double the spending on the pre-school sector to $1.7 billion by 2022 and open 40,000 more childcare places by then.
”The good news is that India seems to have finally trained its lens on the ECCE sector with a recent report by the PMO, no less. The State of Foundational Literacy and Numeracy (FLN) in India by the PM’s EAC points out that early grade literacy helps prevent crime, thereby reducing the cost that a nation would have to incur in managing the mounting pile of cases, running the courts and prisons. The report mentions that the crime rate amongst the youth is on the rise and also mentions that the higher enrollment ratio in ECCE can lead to lesser crime rates.