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Education Reform: Emphasis on First Five Years

Education reform is a widely debated issue. But when politicians talk about it, they focus on high school or college. But in reality, the most important growth period of a child’s life is the first 5 years of their life. This early period is crucial for developing a child’s brain, setting the tone for the rest of their lives. Cognitive skills such as reading, language, vocabulary and numeracy are all developed through preschool and kindergarten. 


Throughout the first five years of a child's life, the brain develops more than in any later period. By the time they start kindergarten, a child’s brain is 90% of an adult’s, with areas such as language, emotion and movement developing. If children go through positive worldly experiences and successful everyday interactions with the community, then they develop brain connections that will guide them throughout their adulthood. It encourages them to become successful adults. 


In addition, actions and experiences during this time lay the groundwork in children’s brains for years to come. For example, children absorb the language around them. They are receptive to word choice, grammar and vocabulary. Exposure to these things in various forms such as songs, reading, writing, talking and listening enhances children’s ability to express themselves and engage with others.


Children develop socially and emotionally through navigating relations and understanding emotions. It is also important for children to understand empathy in an environment filled with their peers through sharing toys and working with their educators. Further, preschool encourages children to progress in their cognitive thinking. It sets them up for a more formal education while introducing them to problem-solving and critical thinking. 


The edits of preschool are indisputable. The problem lies in the lack of mandates across the country in terms of preschool education. For all of the above skills to be developed, students need to be given time and attention. Teachers and resources need to be allocated to ensure that children are rising to their full potential. Not only do children develop quantifiable skills such as recognizing shapes, colors and letters, but they also practice social and emotional intelligence. The experience of moving around and working with peers will carry over to the rest of their lives, and the early exposure of these unmeasurable experiences has immense positive impacts on students. Research shows that children who graduate from preschool have improved academic readiness, lower incarceration rates and higher earnings.


Unfortunately, schooling at these ages is not mandatory across America. This grave shortcoming of the country’s public educational system has impacted many past generations and will continue to do so unless it is changed from a federal standpoint. Four states — Idaho, Montana, South Dakota and Wyoming — do not even have state-run preschool programs. This is a problem: we are missing out on key foundational years that impact students for their entire lifetime.


Next time, when politicians are evaluating the educational system, they should give America’s youngest children their due. State governments need to include preschool in their education plans to ensure language acquisition, social-emotional growth and cognitive abilities for all students under five. Not mandating any formal schooling until kindergarten puts students from lower-income backgrounds at a disadvantage in the long term and is not maximizing resources for America’s future generations.


(The opinions expressed in this article are those of the individual author.)

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