Reading Kingdom: What problems are facing early childhood education?

Dr. Marion Blank (Founder of ReadingKingdom.com) answers:

The problems facing early childhood education are very much tied to the major forces at play in the society at large. One major force concerns the issue of working mothers. Over the past half century, mothers of young children increasingly work outside the home. More than 70 percent are in the labor force with nearly half working full time– an increase from less than 30 percent in 1979.

With these changes, schools for young children often function as baby sitting services, greatly increasing the demands they face. For example, years back, many key aspects of development occurred, without conscious effort, in the domain of the home. Now they need to be consciously taught in the school.

Language development represents one such area. Children, even in infancy are now commonly in education/day care settings. Learning language in the one-to-one exchange that takes place at home is vastly different from learning it in the group setting of the school. That does not mean that teachers cannot foster language. But most teachers and other caregivers do not receive the high level of training needed for effectively teaching language. Even if they did, the group setting does not allow the sustained interaction that is so helpful in the learning of a language. Teachers have to shift relatively rapidly from one child to the other simply because of the setting. So, at a minimum, the teaching of language has to be carefully examined and modified.

This is just one example of the complexities associated with early childhood education.  Comparable problems hold for many aspects of development (e.g., young children having to adjust to tight schedules which cannot adapt to individual needs whether they involve when the child sleeps, the type of play activities they wish to pursue, the level of noise they can tolerate, etc.)

If the group setting occupied a small portion of the day, these issues would not matter. A child does not need parental type exchange on a 24-7 basis. However, when the group setting occupies most of the child’s waking hours (as it does in lives of many children), the setting exerts an enormous effect on development.

These comments should be taken to mean that the problems cannot be understood and dealt with effectively in isolation.  But the good news is that we need not start from scratch in trying to find answers. We already know that other countries approach this realm in a very different way. As but one example, the daycare budget in Sweden is more than their defense budget. That single fact tells you a lot about the importance given to childcare in Sweden.  The situation in the United States is clearly different. It would be wonderful if our nation, with its wealth and power, supported early education in the ways that children and families need in order to thrive.