Essay: Comparative Analysis of Childcare Issues Within a Global Setting

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Early childhood education (ECE) is becoming an issue of greater importance in nations all over the world. Levine (2005, p. 196) points out that globalization and technological innovation have, in many ways, been the great equalizers, transforming social, political and economic relationships within and among both developed and developing countries. It is imperative, Levine writes, to "recognize the urgent need for greater investment in preschool education -- an essential engine for expanding human potential and accelerating economic growth" (p. 196). The United States lags behind other nations in its commitment to provide standardized, quality early childhood education programs to its population. Children of the United Kingdom have fared better. There is still work to be done, however. The purpose of this paper is to look critically at ECE programs in the United States and the United Kingdom. Current literature will be reviewed and the programs of the two nations will also be evaluated against programs in other nations. By looking at current best practices and identifying gaps, it is possible to draw conclusions about the state of ECE in the U.S. And the U.K. And make some recommendations for future study.

Background on Early Childhood Education

Early childhood education in the United States has a long history of changing roles and revised goals (Kagan and Reid 2009, p 572). It has been charged that the same is true in the United Kingdom, with both nations lagging behind practices, programs and government support found in other European nations (Moss 1999, p. 230). Focus in and on ECE has experienced a number of shifts in response to changing social, economic and political events. In the U.S., for example, there were Infant Schools in the early days of the republic, designed to help the children of indigent families with the goal of reversing the effects of generational poverty. Depression-era nursery schools, likewise government funded, were designed largely to address the same need, as has been the intent of a more modern program, Head Start.

The origins of the current British system stem from "long-forgotten 19th century political considerations" (Moss 1999, p. 231). In some ways, the long history ECE in the U.S. And the U.K. have been its downfall. Early childhood education, comparatively new in developing nations such as China, Egypt and Brazil, have been better able to design programs to address current needs without having to make large paradigm shifts. It may be easier to "start fresh" than to revise and restructure systems which have been long entrenched.

The Advantages of Early Childhood Education

The benefits of early childhood education are not in dispute. Research in a variety of disciplines demonstrates how and why high-quality ECE makes a difference. Levine (2005, p. 197) summarized key points that have been supported by numerous studies: 1) in the first five years of life, children acquire the "building blocks" of subsequent development; 2) the "growth trajectory" gains momentum, fostering development in a child's learning, health, and emotional growth; 3) long-term economic benefits in developing nations have already been demonstrated; and 4) Low-income families in the U.S. have particularly benefited from early childhood education programs of quality, with proven outcomes that include increased achievement, decreased rates of grade retention, fewer referrals for special education programs, and reductions in crime, delinquency and dropout rates. The findings of Bruder (2009, p. 340) supports the work of many others in various child-related disciplines in reporting that over fifty years of research demonstrates the benefits of early education with respect to children with disabilities. It seems clear that ECE has a significant and positive effect for all children and serves to bridge a gap between the average child and those who are disadvantaged, either because of socioeconomic background or physical or cognitive impairments. Research on children in the U.S. And the U.K. can be generalized to populations throughout the world, whether they are the children of developed nations (Canada, Japan, Australia and the highly developed nations of Europe), middle-income nations such as China and Mexico, or low-income nations such as India, Brazil, Pakistan, Nigeria and Indonesia.

With the benefits of ECE so strongly supported by research, it is difficult to see why American and British systems have floundered. The findings reviewed for this paper support the conclusion that ECE is valued, at least with rhetoric, but there remain numerous challenges to systematic implementation of quality programs as experts and policymakers continue to debate large issues such as delivery, standardization, assessment and funding. No one would argue that our children -- our future -- are of vital importance, and yet ECE does not always receive the prominent attention it deserves, nor the immediacy of action that is required.

Early Childhood Education in the U.S. And the U.K.

One of the great issues with respect to ECE in the U.S. is a fundamental one, the question whether young children should be served outside their homes at all (Kagan & Reid 2009, p. 573). The birth of the U.S. is linked to the ideology of freedom and what Kagan and Reid (2009, p. 573) call the "mantra" of the primacy and privacy of the home. ECE programs never enjoyed the same legitimacy as K-12 education and they often had to justify their very existence. Until fairly recently in American history, perhaps the past fifty years, the majority of women stayed at home with their young children, educating them (or not) according to their own abilities, cultural norms and personal preferences. As more and more women have joined the ranks of the employed, childcare and early childhood education programs have received greater attention. However, perceptions of need have ebbed and flowed, as has federal funding. As Kagan and Reid (2009, p. 573) point out, the result is a huge deficit in the "three essential mainstays" of quality ECE programs: vision, permanence, and infrastructure.

There has long been a disparity in programs and target populations. Federally-supported programs have been geared to children from low-income families, while the private sector has catered to children from middle- and upper-income families. Since there is no consensus on the mission of ECE, the problem is exacerbated. There are questions as to whether ECE should focus on care or on socialization and education. One could fairly argue that a quality program does both, but when children's levels of preparedness vary because of cultural and socioeconomic factors, the questions surrounding equitability and standardization become even more problematic.

In the U.K., education is compulsory from the age of five. In the U.S., that is equivalent to students beginning kindergarten, which is mandated at the state level and thus inconsistent nationwide. Not all states have compulsory kindergarten and even within states, kindergarten availability can vary by district and can also vary according to full- or half-day programs. In Britain and in the U.S., children sometimes begin their compulsory education at the age of four, when parents are allowed to assert their preference. Young students thus come to school at various stages of developmental readiness. The diversity within kindergarten classes results partly from this, and partly from school readiness as shaped by ECE experiences.

The concept of early childhood, defined as the first six years of life and constituting the first stage of the education system, was adopted in Spain in 1990 (Moss 1999, 231). The distinction is an important one, and one to which many nations, including Britain and the U.S., are moving. When ECE is viewed as the first stage in education, it gains credibility and importance as a component of the entire education system. If it is not viewed as a first state, ECE remains a separate entity. The focus will remain on parental choice, most often in the cases of upper-income families where mothers remain at home or can afford in-home help, and on addressing the needs of lower-income children as a way to bridge gaps resulting from socioeconomic differences. This focus will do little to support efforts to change the ECE system and make it standardized and equally accessible, and beneficial, to all children. Valentine, Thomson and Antcliff (2009, p. 211) suggest that partnerships between the for-profit sector and non-profit sectors may be one solution, although their research and experiences in Australia may not generalize to populations in the U.K. And particularly in the U.S., where there are greater numbers of children and greater diversity of cultures.

It is interesting to view ECE in the U.K. And U.S. In light of programs in developing nations. What is happening in these nations is important on a global scale -- by 2015, China, India, Brazil and Indonesia will educate, combined, more than ten times the number of children educated in the U.S. (UNESCO 2003, cited in Levine 2005, p. 196). The most populous emerging nations, a group referred to as the E-9 -- Bangladesh, Brazil, China, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Nigeria and Pakistan -- are home to more than half of the world's children (Levin 2005, p. 198). Each of these nations has pledged to make ECE a major priority.… [END OF PREVIEW]

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