'Education To Be More' was published last August. It was the report of the New Zealand Government's Early Childhood Care and Education Working Group. The report argued for enhanced equity of access and better funding for childcare and early childhood education institutions. Unquestionably, that's a real need; but since parents don't normally send children to pre-schools until the age of three, are we missing out on the most important years of all?
A 13-year study of early childhood development at Harvard University has shown that, by the age of three, most children have the potential to understand about 1000 words - most of the language they will use in ordinary conversation for the rest of their lives. Furthermore, research has shown that while every child is born with a natural curiosity, it can be suppressed dramatically during the second and third years of life. Researchers claim that the human personality is formed during the first two years of life, and during the first three years children learn the basic skills they will use in all their later learning both at home and at school. Once over the age of three, children continue to expand on existing knowledge of the world.
It is generally acknowledged that young people from poorer socio-economic backgrounds tend to do less well in our education system. That's observed not just in New Zealand, but also in Australia, Britain and America. In an attempt to overcome that educational under-achievement, a nationwide programme called 'Headstart' was launched in the United States in 1965. A lot of money was poured into it. It took children into pre-school institutions at the age of three and was supposed to help the children of poorer families succeed in school. Despite substantial funding, results have been disappointing. It is thought that there are two explanations for this. First, the programme began too late. Many children who entered it at the age of three were already behind their peers in...
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