antoninis3_David BrewsterStar Tribune via Getty Images_preschool David BrewsterStar Tribune via Getty Images

The Transformative Power of Early Education

Despite the importance of a person’s early years, an estimated two in five children, mostly in low- and lower-middle-income countries, are still completely missing out on pre-primary school. Giving everyone the same educational opportunity from the beginning can play a powerful role in fostering inclusion.

PARIS – In the small northern Croatian town of Orehovica, preschoolers get together twice a week to play and learn. The classes, which include children of Roma background, are full of energy. Activities adapted to everyone’s needs have created a sense of belonging for every child, regardless of their identity. The teachers are trained in inclusive education practices, and know how best to support these young children before they enter primary school. Most important, parents play a central role at the preschool and feel supported and valued. The positive impact on the children has spilled over into the local community and improved social cohesion.

The Orehovica program’s success underscores the longstanding truth that the period from birth to the age of five is vital to a person’s long-term development. The brain grows rapidly during this time and develops important skills that influence our health, how well we do at school, and how good we are at our jobs.

Access to high-quality early education helps nurture these skills and can yield remarkable benefits. US researchers have spent the past 50 years studying the impact of such programs on children who had attended them in the 1960s. They found that participation in early childhood education reduced the likelihood of children being placed in special education and increased high-school graduation rates by as much as 11 percentage points. These children experienced fewer suspensions from school, had better employment outcomes and overall mental well-being, and were less likely to receive criminal convictions.

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