The footprint of early childhood education in the first 3 years of life

For the Nobel Prize winner in economics James Heckman, “learning begins in childhood, long before formal education begins, and continues throughout life. Success or failure at this stage sets the stage for success or failure in school, which in turn leads to success or failure in post-school teaching. The nobel, expert in the economics of human development, is a strong defender of early childhood education (that which encompasses the stages from 0 to 6 years old) for being a key moment in the development of people.

Numerous studies support the thesis that children who attend early childhood education obtain better academic results throughout their school life, but its influence is also perceived in other aspects related to non-cognitive skills such as socialization, teamwork or responsibility. The stage from 0 to 3 years is decisive because it is a period in which children begin to discover the world, interact with others and acquire autonomy.

Works like the one carried out by Daniel Santin, professor of economics and coordinator of the Ramón Areces Foundation, and Gabriela Sicilia, a researcher at the University of La Laguna, show “that the years received in early childhood education significantly and positively affect the academic performance of students, which could suggest that Infant education is effectively formative and not merely of a care nature”. They were observed in this academic experiment, for example, significant differences in math results among students who had attended preschool for at least one year.

Early childhood education, although it does not determine success, can be an important element in the academic course and, although “some knowledge may not be remembered in the long term, the experiences that occur in this stage are recorded in the soul forever. It is installed in your subconscious and will accompany you in many moments of your life, “he says. Manu Velasco, Teacher of Early Childhood Education and Primary Education with more than 17 years of experience in the classroom. For children, their until then small universe expands very rapidly in these years, adds Velasco, because “they learn to plan, to understand the passage of time, to know how to communicate an idea, a doubt or an emotion.”

What reasons are involved in the decision to take the children to early childhood education?

Adriano Villar Aldonza, a professor at the University of La Rioja specialized in the economics of education, highlights that “families in Spain are currently paying for around 40% of this educational stage, which amounts to between 250 and 500 euros depending on each autonomous community ”. The fact that the first stage of early childhood education is not free, which does occur in the second, creates a significant gap between the two. Schooling from 3 years of age is 96% in Spain, according to INE figures, however, in the 0 to 3-year stage it is only 40%, a figure that also varies considerably according to the communities autonomous.

Unfortunately in Spain, Professor Daniel Santín points out, the decision to send children to school before the age of three is fundamentally economic: “There are few scholarships for families with a lower economic level and early childhood education will be highly conditioned by the possibility of paying”. Only after two years “a change is observed in the behavior of parents when deciding to school their children,” adds Villar.

After the economic, the work-life balance it is the other main factor influencing the decision of parents to take their children to a nursery school. It was the case of Noelia and Víctor, parents of two children. With the arrival of their second daughter, combining schedules and family life became an impossible challenge, and that is when they decided to take little Valeria to a public nursery school in Getafe, managed by Koala Escuelas Infantiles, a company belonging to Clece.

“Today we don’t have enough time to give them everything they need at that age, so we decided that the best thing was for people who dedicated themselves to this to dedicate that time to our children,” says Noelia, although initially she admits that “I was a bit reluctant to take them, but when I started taking them and I saw how they learned, every day I got happier with all the things that my son and daughter did.” Her husband, Victor, was also surprised by the steps his children took at school: “This is not raising, this is educating and helping them develop”.

The socio-economic effects of investing in education

Educating is the most socially profitable, even more so if it is done from an early age. It is an indispensable piece for progress, from which fruits are gathered throughout life. Santín explains that “there is strong evidence that shows that children who have attended quality early childhood education for more years obtain higher academic recognition and are also less likely to repeat a year. This what ends up producing in the long run is that children who have attended kindergarten spend more years in the educational system, go to university, in the end have higher salaries and pay more taxes, taxes that ultimately redound to society. “

Santín continues that this could be explored in Spain through an almost natural experiment, when the LOGSE was approved in the 90s. It was the first law in extend the free early childhood education to 3 years. “Not all the autonomous communities implemented it at the same time, which allowed us to observe what differences were produced in academic performance. Found a positive impact, especially in reading and repeating courses, in those where it was implanted quickly and the children began to go to school at 3 years of age ”.

In this sense, it is also worth dwelling on a investigation de Villar, professor at the University of La Rioja, on the effects of early schooling in children aged five and six years, where it is concluded that “the detection of learning problems and their resolution at an early age can help reduce the costs of the education system as a whole”And also highlights how these positive effects“ are amplified when we talk about children who come from disadvantaged backgrounds ”.

The universalization of education

The definition of early childhood education in Spain has evolved as educational laws have followed one another, but it was from the 1990s on when this stage began to acquire more and more importance, until we are currently in the school enrollment figures similar to other European Union countries such as France or Belgium.

However, as we have already mentioned, the schooling rate in the first stage of early childhood education in Spain is around 40%, a figure that also varies considerably according to the autonomous communities. Some such as the Basque Country, Madrid or Galicia exceed 60% while in the Canary Islands or Murcia this figure does not exceed 30%. To solve it, experts like Santín advocate that “at least from the age of two the education is free.”

For Villar, the problem also resides in the fact that when the two cycles of early childhood education were recognized, “in Spain we have focused mainly on the second stage. For the first, the communities were encouraged to increase the participation of minors, but no specific guidelines were given. The evolution of this stage has responded more to regional efforts that to what is a common path, this has then led to a series of territorial inequalities ”.

In this way, the advancement of early childhood education in Spain relies on reaching the universalization, ensuring that everyone, without distinction, can access this educational stage so decisive in the future of the little ones. For Villar, “here not only does the individual himself come into play and the effects that early childhood education may have on it, but we must have a slightly broader perspective and understand that early childhood education not only contributes to the development of the individual, it also encourages quality and improves the educational system as a whole. “

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The footprint of early childhood education in the first 3 years of life