Early Childhood Education: Strategies for Combatting the Ills of Urban Education

by Kahlil Mwaafrika

Often referred to as “daycare,” Early Childhood Education has the potential to close the achievement and developmental gap between inner city children and affluence.  To avoid overstatement, there is a plethora of documented research, specifically the High Scope Perry Preschool Project and the  Heckman Study , that validate the assertion. For us laymen, I have composed a “holy” list of 7 attributes of ECE that will directly improve the quality of inner city/urban life.

  1. Brain Development – According to DOE Compass in the 2016-17 school year, 850 Pre-K children were enrolled, and of  those 850 , 216 (25%) were diagnosed as “ Special Needs.” What is shocking about this statistic is that 80% of all brain development takes place within the first three years of a child’s life. Simply put, brain development is the process of cells connecting with others to create “supercells” that drive intelligence, thinking, creativity, etc. The primary way cells connect is by attracting other cells via electric charges internally. Externally this is done by stimulation, or engaging children in meaningful and intentional activities. Early childhood education is the formalized process in which children are constantly engaged in stimulating learning environments that perpetuate exponential brain development. If we want to decrease the amount of children that are diagnosed as special needs at such a young age and often subsequently labeled for the rest of their school career , then we must place young children in environments where their brains are constantly stimulated.
  2. Long Term Societal Improvement  There is extensive research that shows that children that receive high quality Early Childhood Education earn more money, commit less crime, stay married longer, divorce less, maintain homes longer, live longer and happier. Refer to the links above for more information.
  3. Family Engagement – As a current center director and long time educator of children of all ages, I have never seen greater family support for children than in ECE. Often times, I observe grandparents, uncles, aunties and older siblings as parent surrogates helping with drop off and pick up, available throughout the days to read and participate in classroom activities, assisting with tuition, coming to school meetings, dropping by to check on children etc.. In many cases more so than parents. It seems that when children are young, extended family is more willing to be involved and engaged.
  4. Community Engagement – The same is true for the intentionality of the community relative to young children. Institutions such as fire departments, police departments, museums,  and zoos have programs designed specifically for young children that are typically free or low cost. Additionally, members of the community feel a sense of purpose and obligation to help young children. Considering the nature of young children , behavioral issues typically are low to nil, so lessons and activities are easily shared.
  5. Increased Literacy – Reading comprehension is essential for any level of academic and societal success. The skill of reading for understanding is necessary for math , science , social studies, foreign language, sign reading, reading directions, and so on. Phonemic awareness and fluency are skills that are developed and formalized in early childhood. Without this foundation , it is rare that children ascertain those rudimentary skills later
  6. Holistic Education – Unlike Elementary or Secondary education , ECE teachers/professionals are trained to teach the “whole child.” Our developmental standards force us to be cognizant of a child’s development ranging from cognitive to social and emotional development. The Head Start ECE model takes this a step further by incorporating home visits which places great emphasis on the home environment as well.
  7. Achievement Gap – The successive result when there is intentionality about each of the aforementioned tenets is a natural closing of the achievement gap. Not through a magic solution, rather providing members of often underserved populations with the same opportunity as children from affluent or even middle class economic status an opportunity to allow the normal human function to transpire without the excessive interruption of controllable external factors that have proven to be detrimental to the normal growth and development process.