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Early Childhood Education Brings Uncertain Benefits

Media Release – Early Childhood Education Brings Social Drawbacks, Uncertain Benefits

November 22, 2012

Palmerston North, NZ – Under the new Social Security (Benefit Categories and Work Focus) Amendment Bill, which is now being considered by a select committee, beneficiaries will be compelled to send their preschool children to early childhood education (ECE) for at least 15 hours per week. While Minister for Social Development Paula Bennett claims that this will ensure that disadvantaged children get the best possible start on life, the Home Education Foundation (HEF) of New Zealand cites research linking ECE with a whole spectrum of sociopolitical problems.

According to research by Canadian developmental psychologist Dr Gordon Neufeld, co-author of the book Hold On to Your Children: Why Parents Matter, children need at least six years to bond with their parents in a nurturing, play-rich environment before being sent to school. Parents who send their children to out-of-home care before the child has fully bonded with the parents will force their child to satisfy emotional needs by bonding with peers or caregivers. These bonds are soon broken when the peers or caregivers move out of the child’s life, resulting in insecure children suffering from what Dr Neufeld calls “attachment hunger”.

Anti-social behaviour is strongly associated with ECE attendance. In one of the most rigorous studies available, the US National Institute of Child Health and Human Development found a strong link between long hours of non-maternal care and behavioural problems such as aggression, demanding behaviour, cruelty, fighting, and so on, even in children coming from usually privileged backgrounds.

In a Canadian study published this year, researchers from the University of Montreal and the Sainte-Justine Hospital Research Centre said that children who attend daycare are more likely to become obese between the ages of 4 and 10.

Head researcher Dr Marie-Claude Geoffrey stated, “We found that children whose primary care arrangement between 1.5 and 4 years was in daycare-center or with an extended family member were around 50 per cent more likely to be overweight or obese between the ages of 4-10 years compared to those cared for at home by their parents.”

But what about all the research showing that preschool can be beneficial? New Zealand’s Dr Sarah-Eve Farquar, author of the 2008 paper “Assessing the evidence on early childhood education/childcare” says, “In September 2002 the government released a 10 year plan for ECE and the New Zealand Council for Educational Research Competent Children, Competent Learners study was drawn on to justify the values underpinning the plan and ECE policy. But the study had limited findings relating to ECE effects and quite major methodological problems.”

By contrast, says Dr Farquar, “The best evidence points to parents/family having a far greater impact than the childcare/ECE experience on children’s developmental outcomes.”

Problems with the Competent Children, Competent Learners study include the superficiality of the research conducted on the children, plus the fact that the overwhelming majority of the children studied came from well-to-do Pakeha families. “Due to the very small number of A’oga Amata in the study and the absence of other Pacific Island language nests and Kohanga Reo no conclusions should be drawn about these service types or about ECE effects on Maori and Pacific children,” says Dr Farquar.

She goes on to cite a number of New Zealand and international studies, including a more rigorous study conducted in Christchurch in 1994. While this study did find very small detectable increases in ability and achievement scores among ECE attendees, the researches stated that “the relatively small effect sizes found and the uncertainties of the evidence suggest it would be unwise to aggressively promote the view that early education of the type provided to this cohort makes an important contribution to subsequent academic achievement. At best any benefits found in this study are small and it is possible that even these benefits may be due to uncontrolled factors rather than the benefits of early education.

After citing other reputable international studies, Dr Farquar concluded, “The best evidence does not show that good quality ECE is better necessarily than care within the family or has a greater impact on children’s achievement and other outcomes…It may be that if unbiased information on potential risks and the size of benefits is given to parents in a timely manner, then parents can make more informed choices and manage risks to better advantage their child’s development.”

More information on the bill can be found at www.hef.org.nz.

About the Home Education Foundation

The Home Education Foundation has been informing parents for 27 years about the fantastic opportunity to de-institutionalise our sons and daughters and to embrace the spiritual, intellectual and academic freedom that is ours for the taking. Through conferences, journals, newsletters and all kinds of personal communications, we explain the vision of handcrafting each child into a unique individual, complete with virtuous character, a hunger for service to others, academic acumen and a strong work ethic. For more information, please visit www.hef.org.nz or more specifically hef.org.nz/2012/make-a-submission-reject-compulsory-early-education-for-3-year-olds/


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