Every year or so Life Matters *discusses* preschool education for Australians. Yesterday we were treated to the wisdom of two experts, one of whom runs a preschool in Newcastle, and the other, an early childhood education researcher at Victoria University.
Australia sits near the bottom of relevant countries when it comes to GDP spending on pre-primary school aged children.
Industry experts say the number of years spent in early childhood education and care is a strong predictor of the level of performance reached at later stages, both in and out of school.
Naturally we were treated to frightening statistics. Well, one anyway. Did you know that children who attended preschool did twice as well in high school science? And did you also know that there’s almost no point in sending kids to preschool for just one day a week, they need to attend much more than that!
Let’s start with the claim that kids who go do preschool turn out better human beings. Here’s the thing, preschool costs money. Poor kids are less likely to go to preschool. Poor kids also do worse in high school generally. This obvious confounder was not even mentioned. Same goes for women in the workforce. Kids with working Mums tend to grow up and work themselves. Mum-key see, mum-key do.
Certainly, some studies show that children from highly disadvantaged backgrounds who attend preschool do better at school than their peers who don’t, but this is probably because they’re getting access to an enriching environment instead of sitting front of the TV. Spending the day in jail in an underground Nepalese coal mine would most likely improve their performance, compared to staying at home.
No matter, though, that’s just research. BORING! We all know that preschool education is awesome for all kids! In fact, some countries have now decided to do away with parenting altogether and turn the whole thing into a profession that the state pays for. It worked with dentistry!
The message from Life Matters was unashamedly biased – Australia should provide access to preschool for all three and four year olds. It helps them with their literacy and numeracy when they reach school, and teaches them how to cope in a large group.
I could go on about the multiple ways this is bullshit, but I won’t. It is, after all, a shameless puff piece engaging in the worst kind of cherry-picking to appeal to its demographic – working, predominantly middle class women who want free, full time childcare. It’s telling that for all the talk of ‘preschool as education’, the head of the Newcastle centre still referred to it as ‘childcare’.
So here’s the other side of the story; children with an enriching home environment can and do thrive when they hit school. Moreover, many children find the noise, chaos and violence of a preschool setting troubling and exhausting. Have you ever been to a preschool? It’s like someone airdropped a shipping container of methamphetamine into the meercat enclosure. However, as with daycare, stressing the shit out of small children isn’t destined to get a whole lot of government sympathy and attention.
And this is because it’s the economy, stupid. There is no longer an option for anyone to stay at home with the kids, unless you’re part of the minuscule elite. Mum or Dad must now work. Grandparents who are well enough to look after children are actually in Tuscany/Rome/Portugal at the moment. And who can afford to rent a place in the same neighbourhood as a baby boomer anyway? What everyone could do with is a spot of free childcare. And so this is the line Life Matters is pushing.
I’m not anti-preschool. My kid went to preschool, for two years, before (public) school. In the first year (at age three) my kid attended one day a week. This was all we could afford. The following year we were a little better off financially, and started going two days a week. The kid did not cope at all and was a complete wreck. We quickly pulled it back to one day a week. Of course, I’m not suggesting our experience is generalisable – unlike the radio program that entreated listeners to call in with ‘their experiences’. Did you go to preschool? How has it worked out for you? Very scientific.
But seeing as you ask….I went to preschool – it was a community run playgroup thing. We didn’t have ‘early childhood educators’ – we had a bunch of Mums in track-pants not contributing to the tax base while we tried hard to set one another on fire. It was excellent. My later high school performance can be best summed up as abominable.
Perhaps I wasn’t ‘ready’ for the classroom – didn’t have my literacy and numeracy nailed, compared to my peers. Well, this is just a comparative measure – pretty meaningless. Who cares if you can’t read when you’re six? Steiner kids don’t even start to read until someone really needs to know what’s in a packet of Cheezels. Doesn’t seem to do them much harm. Or those home-school weirdos. They seem to do rather well, actually. In fact, there are heaps of kids who do rather well outside the mainstream, homogenising school system.
Again, we’re in the mainstream school system, and it’s bloody great – our experience with the public school education system is that it’s creative, engaging and bloody good fun. It does not need to start any earlier than five though.