Pre-school to prevent delinquency?
The rant below is typical of disassociated Leftist thought. Jacqueline Maley points to problems and just asserts that pre-school will fix them. Asking for evidence that your "cure" will in fact cure anything is chronically "forgotten" among Leftists. Evidence connecting the cure to the problem is absent.
She points to the problems that children reared in feral environments pose for both themselves and everyone else and then points out that if you get an infant very early, you may be able to train its brain into more positive behaviour channels. It's a reasonable conjecture.
So how do we implement this draconian intervention? The infant brain is at it most plastic when it is youngest. The plasticity is highest just after birth and declines steadily thereafter. To make Maley's idea work, you would have to take masses of infants away from their families from shortly after birth. Is that going to happen? The "stolen generations" furore guarantees that it will not.
So she does not even explore that option. She just states blandly and blindly that pre-school will achieve the desired result. But, for a start, pre-school is far to late to do much good and, secondly, any effect of a few hours in pre-school will be overwhelmed by the very different experience of the feral home for the remaining 18 hours (or more) of the day.
Maley quotes theories of U.S. educators that say there is a small advantage in pre-school but those theories fade into insignificance when we look at the actual experience with the American "Head Start" program -- now in existence for many decades. It aimed to give a quality pre-school experience to children from deprived homes. It produced some initially promising results, as new programs often do, but those advantages rapidly faded away, leaving a program that scholarly analysts see as an abject failure. The program is now kept going mainly as a means of offering a child-minding service in poor areas
Ms Maley hasn't got a clue. Like most Leftist writing hers has an initial plausibility until you know all the facts
There is one simple thing politicians could do right now that would save the budget millions, or even billions, of dollars over the next generation.
The evidence is clear that this near-magic initiative works to prevent poverty, illiteracy, social delinquency, welfare dependency, ill health, and even cardiovascular disease and obesity.
Politicians like to talk about there being no "silver bullet" solution to any given problem, but according to economists and doctors, and at least one Nobel prize winner who has devoted his life to this cause, this is as close to it as it gets.
All they have to do is better fund preschools.
After 20 years of solid research into child brain development, scientists now know (and I use the verb "know" in the entirely scientific, evidence-based, non-feelpinion sense) that the human brain in the infant-to-child period is exquisitely sensitive to its environment.
Whatever crappy destiny a child's genes have planned for him or her, it will usually only be triggered in a bad environment, where a child's basic physical needs are not met, or where his or her parents fail to provide a nurturing, stimulating and responsive backdrop.
Professor Frank Oberklaid, a feted paediatrician who is probably Australia's foremost expert in early intervention and childhood development, says none of this research is touchy-feely or vague.
It is "robust and non-contested" neuroscience.
We all know that children who are exposed to abuse or neglect often grow up to have psychological and behavioural problems.
But the research shows there are long-term physical and neurological consequences from what you and I might call a crappy childhood.
The effects from a bad environment are as real and long-lasting as a blow to the head, or a kick to the kidneys might be.
"In situations of extreme poverty, child abuse, substance abuse, or any situation where the child is exposed to unpredictability and a lack of responsiveness, stress levels go up in the brain," Oberklaid says.
"This produces cortisol, and cortisol levels affect the brain's functioning. You get the biologic embedding of environmental events, so after a generation or two you start to see changes in genetic material."
Here's the real kicker: increased stress in those early years resets the body's physiological regulatory system at a sub-optimal level, meaning these children, as they grow up, are more likely to develop disease like heart disease, stroke and diabetes.
It also buggers their brain's frontal lobe development, which governs what is known as "executive function" – a trio of cognitive processes that are essential to functioning as a happy and productive adult: working memory, mental flexibility and self control.
Take a survey of your nearest prison population and you will find it full of men and women who have difficulty holding more than a few pieces of information in their minds at once, who are bad at switching between tasks and who have poor or zero impulse control.
Children are not born with these skills, and they are unlikely to develop them in dysfunctional home environments.
That's why compulsory, state-subsided preschool for at least one year, but ideally two, is something economists are switching on to.
The Nobel-winning American economist James Heckman has devoted much of his professional life to researching the economics of early childhood, and has shown that funding early childhood delivers a return on investment.
His analysis of one preschool program estimated a 7 to 10 per cent return on investment. Analysis of another early childhood program, the Chicago Child-Parent Centre, estimated $48,000 in benefits to the public per child from a half-day of public preschool. The estimated return on investment was $7 for every dollar invested.
These savings are based on the greater adult productivity of the kids involved, and reduced costs in remedial education, healthcare and criminal justice participation down the line.
The good news is we know exactly what we have to do in order to prevent a lot of these adverse outcomes.
Oberklaid spends his life advocating early intervention policy, and has advised state and federal ministers on the subject.
If he could make politicians do one single thing, it would be to fund one year of universal preschool education. Even better, fund two years of it.
Preschool helps develop the early building blocks of educational success – learning colours and numbers, understanding patterns, realising that printed words hold meaning. It socialises children. Any language, hearing or developmental problems a child may have are picked up early.
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