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Academics call for public investment in early education to close achievement gap

March 11, 2015

Canada's leading scholars have unveiled the evidence for public public investment in early childhood education.

An open letter, released yesterday at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) of the University of Toronto, and signed by 155 university-appointed academics, lays out how high-quality early childhood education improves educational, social, and health outcomes for children and families, as it delivers economic benefits for society.

“The findings are backed by studies grounded in medicine, psychology, education, health, economics and the neurosciences, and repeatedly replicated over the past 40 years,” says OISE early learning expert Dr. Jennifer Jenkins, Director of the Atkinson Centre at the University of Toronto.

Canada lags in the provision of early education.   Only 1-in-2, 4 year olds attends preschool. Throughout Europe, and in many of the new economies including Mexico and Korea, coverage reaches 100%.

Systematic assessments across Canada indicate that as many as 25% of children show signs of vulnerability in their physical, language, and behavioural development when they start school. Such difficulties are precursors of school dropout, adult mental health problems, and difficulties in the job market.

“These problems can be mitigated if not prevented though quality early education, and children’ developmental trajectories can be changed for the better,” said Dr. Michel Boivin, the Canada Research Chair in Child Social Development and a professor of psychology at Laval University.

The letter argues that early education is a “among the most cost-effective of the social programs.” Early education decreases expenditures on social assistance and special education and contributes to a rise in economic production from increased adult earnings and tax transfers, it argues.

The letter was shared with policy makers across Canada. As well, the public is being asked to examine the evidence and add its voice for increased investment in early education.

The initiative is led by International Network for Early Childhood Knowledge Mobilization (INECK) at Laval University and the Atkinson Centre for Society and Child Development, at the University of Toronto.