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This week, Canadians were confronted with yet another report extolling the benefits of Early Childhood Education (ECE), this time as early as age two. The Early Years Study 3 focuses heavily on the gains of ECE for children and the economy. It hyperbolically warns that “Our survival as a species will depend on our children acquiring the skills they will need to cope with the social and environmental revolutions of the 21st century”, implying that if we don’t properly educate Junior cradle-to-grave, we are not just letting down our kids, but the entire planet.
But the report does not talk about what is lost in ECE – and that is critical. Every benefit has a cost, and I don’t just mean financial. For every extra word a child may learn in ECE, he or she will trade something else, and those tradeoffs have to be taken into account when weighing the benefits of ECE.
The first loss is creativity. In addition to observing my toddler, let me cite two recent studies by MIT and Berkeley University, which found that direct instruction can actually limit young children’s learning. They noted that, as reported in Slate magazine and reprinted in the National Post, that “Teaching is a very effective way to get children to learn something specific… But it also makes children less likely to discover unexpected information and to draw unexpected conclusions.”
The second loss is attention. A soon-to-be published study by the University of Notre Dame shows that birth spacing – the number of years between kids – increases reading and math scores for first-born children. Why? Because the parents have more time to devote to the child before a sibling comes along. So why would parents then put their children into group care and force them to compete with a classroom of other toddlers for a teacher’s attention?
Talking about attention – if a child is tossed into a daycare from 9 to 5 (if not from 8 to 6) – how much time does he have left to spend with his family in an average weekday? Maybe, an hour or so in the morning and some two hours, three at most before bed… This may be a desired outcome for some hardcore Marxist who strongly believes in communal upbringing of children, but as a parent – is that what one would wish for a child as young as two or three?
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