Preschool and our adult lives

Stud­ies agree: ac­cess to early ed­u­ca­tion can change the tra­jec­tory of the rest of your life.

Expat Living (Singapore) - - Contents - BY MONICA PITRELLI

In April, the Sin­ga­pore gov­ern­ment an­nounced plans to in­crease spend­ing on preschool ed­u­ca­tion to S$1.7 bil­lion by 2022. The rea­son why may sur­prise you. The de­ci­sion to nearly dou­ble spend­ing on early child­hood ed­u­ca­tion was made to ad­dress the coun­try’s grow­ing in­equal­ity prob­lem.

Sin­ga­pore is tack­ling the very adult prob­lems of wealth and in­come dis­par­ity by go­ing all the way back to the play­ground. And re­search is firmly on the gov­ern­ment’s side. Stud­ies con­firm that high-qual­ity early child­hood ed­u­ca­tion leads to bet­ter stan­dard­ised test scores, higher ed­u­ca­tional at­tain­ment and greater in­come gains later in life. When ap­plied to en­tire com­mu­ni­ties, so­ci­eties ben­e­fit in the form of de­creased crime, less de­pen­dence on gov­ern­men­tal as­sis­tance and in­creased over­all phys­i­cal health.

So, what is so spe­cial about the first five years of life? Sci­en­tists be­lieve the brain de­vel­ops faster dur­ing these years than at any other point in life. The pe­riod from birth to age five is crit­i­cal for de­vel­op­ing the foun­da­tions for think­ing, be­hav­ing and emo­tional well-be­ing. What chil­dren see, hear, feel, taste and smell dur­ing this time can shape their brains for the rest of their lives. Con­versely, lack of ad­e­quate stim­uli can have a last­ing im­pact, too.

This is why preschool is con­sid­ered to be the great equaliser. K Shan­mugam, Sin­ga­pore’s Min­is­ter for Home Af­fairs and Law, said, “At the point of birth, there is al­ready a gap. That gap widens be­cause of the dif­fer­ence in the fam­i­lies.” Preschool can level the play­ing field – not be­cause chil­dren get ear­lier lessons in read­ing, writ­ing and arith­metic as is com­monly be­lieved, but by ex­pos­ing kids from all walks of life to sim­i­lar stim­uli and ex­pe­ri­ences in their younger years.

“To be hon­est, teach­ing the A-B-CS and 1-2-3s are the eas­i­est parts. Preschool is about pro­vid­ing ex­pe­ri­ences,” says LIANE SHAW of Shaws Preschool. “Through these ex­pe­ri­ences, chil­dren pick up skills far more com­pli­cated than read­ing and count­ing. They learn how to so­cialise with other chil­dren and how to com­mu­ni­cate, ne­go­ti­ate and work to­gether.”

Ac­cess to preschools has an even greater im­pact on chil­dren from lower so­cioe­co­nomic homes (where there tends to be less ac­cess to books, con­ver­sa­tions with adults and other ed­u­ca­tional stim­uli). Ad­di­tion­ally, preschool pro­grammes must be well-de­signed to pro­duce the per­ma­nent ef­fects found in many of the stud­ies.

“Just be­ing in a room with other kids is not enough,” says Liane. “Struc­tured cur­ricu­lums built on play, projects and ex­plo­ration are cru­cial to the preschool en­vi­ron­ment. Chil­dren can learn so much un­der the care of trained early child­hood ex­perts.”

Liane is a big be­liever in sen­sory ex­pe­ri­ences, such as Shaws’ weekly “Brain and Body” pro­gramme, which is de­signed to ap­peal to both sides of the de­vel­op­ing brain and in­cludes fun, in­ter­ac­tive tech­niques, such as crawl­ing ex­er­cises to teach kids about hu­man bi­ol­ogy.

“Shaws Preschool of­fers a twice-weekly Lit­tle League multi-sports pro­gramme. The kids are hav­ing fun catch­ing and kick­ing balls but they are also learn­ing team­work, re­silience and per­se­ver­ance. Sports are an ex­cel­lent tool for learn­ing,” says Liane.

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