Studies agree: access to early education can change the trajectory of the rest of your life. In April, the Singapore government announced plans to increase spending on preschool education to S$1.7 billion by 2022. The reason why may surprise you. The decision to nearly double spending on early childhood education was made to address the country’s growing inequality problem.
Singapore is tackling the very adult problems of wealth and income disparity by going all the way back to the playground. And research is firmly on the government’s side. Studies confirm that high-quality early childhood education leads to better standardised test scores, higher educational attainment and greater income gains later in life. When applied to entire communities, societies benefit in the form of decreased crime, less dependence on governmental assistance and increased overall physical health.
So, what is so special about the first five years of life? Scientists believe the brain develops faster during these years than at any other point in life. The period from birth to age five is critical for developing the foundations for thinking, behaving and emotional well-being. What children see, hear, feel, taste and smell during this time can shape their brains for the rest of their lives. Conversely, lack of adequate stimuli can have a lasting impact, too.
This is why preschool is considered to be the great equaliser. K Shanmugam, Singapore’s Minister for Home Affairs and Law, said, “At the point of birth, there is already a gap. That gap widens because of the difference in the families.” Preschool can level the playing field – not because children get earlier lessons in reading, writing and arithmetic as is commonly believed, but by exposing kids from all walks of life to similar stimuli and experiences in their younger years.
“To be honest, teaching the A-B-Cs and 1-2-3s are the easiest parts. Preschool is about providing experiences,” says LIANE SHAW of Shaws Preschool. “Through these experiences, children pick up skills far more complicated than reading and counting. They learn how to socialise with other children and how to communicate, negotiate and work together.”
Access to preschools has an even greater impact on children from lower socioeconomic homes (where there tends to be less access to books, conversations with adults and other educational stimuli). Additionally, preschool programmes must be well-designed to produce the permanent effects found in many of the studies.
“Just being in a room with other kids is not enough,” says Liane. “Structured curriculums built on play, projects and exploration are crucial to the preschool environment. Children can learn so much under the care of trained early childhood experts.”
Liane is a big believer in sensory experiences, such as Shaws’ weekly “Brain and Body” programme, which is designed to appeal to both sides of the developing brain and includes fun, interactive techniques, such as crawling exercises to teach kids about human biology.
“Shaws Preschool offers a twice-weekly Little League multi-sports programme. The kids are having fun catching and kicking balls but they are also learning teamwork, resilience and perseverance. Sports are an excellent tool for learning,” says Liane.
Kiddie fun or learning lessons?
What you see vs what they are learning
Kids splashing at a water table | The concepts of sinking and floating
Songs being sung in circle time | Memorisation, rhythm, peer interaction
Children playing board games | Patience, turn taking, strategy
Shaws Preschool has six campuses across Singapore | shaws.com.sg
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