Parent Panic

Jennifer Buckingham

30 June 2017 | Ideas@TheCentre

JB parent panicAustralian preschools might have seen a rush of enrolments this week after media covered an OECD report claiming children who attend preschool for two years prior to starting school have significantly higher academic achievement at 15.

But perhaps they should have looked more closely at the OECD results. Dig deeper, and you find that in around half the countries reported, the relationship is no longer significant when socioeconomic status is taken into account. Australia is one of those countries.

And the data on which this report bases its claims are retrospective self-report data from 15-year olds-themselves about whether they went to preschool or child care, and for how long — far from rigorous research.

International report cards like this one are all too often based on spurious statistics: a report published by UNICEF last week purported to find that the quality of Mexico’s education system is in the top three in the world, despite its low performance in international assessments. These sorts of reports are given a high profile by major media outlets, and credible organisations issue media statements in support of the findings. Yet they often just muddy the policy waters.

Parents who have had the fortune to find a great preschool or child care centre will attest to the benefits of some sort of early childhood education. Schools in disadvantaged areas, in particular, know that children who have been to preschool or had good part-time child care are generally better prepared for school.

This makes sense and proper empirical research supports it — all children benefit to some extent from a good pre-school education, but the greatest benefits are to children whose home environments are not conducive to strong language and social-emotional development.

However, it does not mean a parent panic of packing three-year-olds off to preschool for fear of ruining their little lives.

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