Parents in U.S. cities are racing to the best preschools before their child can even walk applying years in advance for competitive spots on wait lists. The focus on getting ahead already begun. Is preschool overemphasized or overlooked as an education development tool?
Preschool in the United States and Europe focuses on socialization and language development. In East Asia, on socialization, problem solving and math. In developing countries, preschool is used as a place to teach health and distribute preventive medical care and nutrition.
As for academic achievement, children 3-5 learn by exploration better than whole group activities. Unstructured play time is where 3-5 year olds learn about their world through discovery. Interaction with other children and adults during free time is found to be where children 3-5 best develop their language and social skills. For most children around the world, preschool can offer a time for this unstructured play and social interaction with others. If play time and interaction is not available within the home or the culture of the home is different than the culture of the school system, then preschool positively affects academic performance. If play time and interaction are part of a child’s home environment, then preschool is not necessary but not harmful.
All in all, primary school education returns higher results to achievement than preschool. Mothers with a basic education in turn educate their young children at home on basic health, language, problem solving and social skills. Though it may take a generation, investing in primary school is a smarter sustainable goal than early childhood education.
That being said, early childhood education can solve immediate health and social problems. Elie Wiesel once said that to achieve peace in the Middle East, children from all backgrounds should play together. He is a wise man. If children are not being taught tolerance, social skills, or even hygiene at home, preschool can correct the mistake before the child is scarred or diseased for life.