The environment during a child’s first years of life has a major impact on their life outcomes. Therefore, positive experiences in early childhood have a critical effect on development. According to the research, the type of education children receive, the age at which they enter a preschool framework, and the time they spend in the framework are significant factors in determining the opportunities for cognitive, social, and emotional development. The characteristics of the preschool frameworks are also an important factor in child development since they affect the physical and social environment in which children grow up. There is a consensus in the literature regarding the contribution of attendance at a high-quality early childhood education and care (ECEC) framework from birth to age 3 and from ages 3 to 6 to the development of cognitive and non-cognitive abilities. Studies have also shown that attending a high-quality ECEC framework makes an even larger contribution to child development among weaker socioeconomic groups and can help to narrow academic and occupational gaps later in life.
While studies of the relationship between early childhood education and future achievement focus primarily on ages 3–6, the current study looks at children from birth to age 3 – the years that are most critical to child development. The study looks— for the first time — at the relationship between attendance at an ECEC framework from birth to age 3 and achievement on reading comprehension tests in Grade 4 in Israel.
As a result of the high fertility rate in Israel, the percentage of children within the population is one of the highest in the world; attendance rates of young children in preschool frameworks are also among the highest. However, the existing data on ECEC frameworks for young children up to the age of 3 indicate that they are, on average, of poor quality. This study looks at the contribution of attending an ECEC framework from birth to age 3 on academic achievement, despite their low quality on average, and the effect of duration of attendance on cognitive development, as reflected in later academic achievements. Furthermore, the study examines differences between Jews and Arabs and differences that can be attributed to socioeconomic status. The researchers utilized data from the PIRLS test carried out in 2016 (the last one carried out in Israel), which tested the reading comprehension of 3,000 nativeborn Israeli students.
Findings of the research
- The research shows that when controlling for family background, the achievements of children who attended an ECEC framework from birth to age 3 are no different than those of children who did not attend; this is in contrast to the positive relationship found in many studies between participation in early childhood education at ages 3–6 and future academic achievement. This is true for both Jews and Arabs and no difference was found based on socioeconomic status. The researchers hypothesize that this finding reflects the prevailing poor quality of early childhood education frameworks for this young age group, which, for the most part, were not under State supervision until recently.
- While the rate of attendance among Jews and Arabs of ECEC frameworks for ages 3–6 are quite similar (98% and 96%), for the younger age group (birth to age 3), the difference is significant: 90% vs 46%, respectively. In other words, the rate of attendance of Jewish children up to age three is almost double that of Arab children of the same age.
- The rate of enrollment in ECEC frameworks for the youngest children increases with socioeconomic status (as measured by the mother’s level of education and the father’s occupation), while in the case of frameworks for ages 3–6 there is no difference according socioeconomic status.
- Among Arabs, the share of children of mothers with an academic education who attended frameworks from birth to age 3 was almost double that of children of mothers without an academic education (67% vs 36%), while among Jews, the difference was small (93% vs 88%). For children ages 3–6 attending preschool frameworks, there were no differences according to the mother’s education level.
- The data show a large difference in average scores on the PIRLS test between Jews and Arabs, part of which can apparently be explained by socioeconomic status. The share of mothers with an academic education among Jews is almost double that among Arabs, as is the case for the share of Jewish fathers who are in professional or managerial occupations.
The research was generously supported by the Beracha Foundation, the Bernard van Leer Foundation, and Yad Hanadiv.