New research shows quality early childhood education reduces the need for special education later in life.
The most recent study, undertaken by Memorial University of Newfoundland in Canada, adds to a growing body of research that shows high-quality preschool programs can have significant long-term academic benefits later on in life.
Studies also show that children who participate in quality preschool programs from the age of three or four, are more likely to arrive at school equipped with social, cognitive and emotional skills that can enhance their overall school experience.
David Philpott, professor of Special Education at the Memorial University of Newfoundland, was part of a team of special education researchers that examined the impact of early childhood education in Canada, the US and the UK.
More than 50 years of data were offered to Professor Philpott and his team by longitudinal studies that tracked children who received this quality education and compared their development to children who did not.
“We reached a startling conclusion: participation in quality early childhood education programs significantly prevents special education placement and lowers the intensity of supports required for children with exceptionalities,” Professor Philpott wrote in an article recently published in The Conversation.
“Exceptionalities could include children on the autism spectrum, as well as other children who would require additional supports beyond the mainstream classroom — for special education placements or tailored plans.”
Professor Philpott and his team found that a continuum of evidence, from multiple studies in multiple countries, unanimously demonstrated what specialists call the “pre-emptive nature” of early childhood education: it pre-empts issues from developing or getting more challenging.
He says there is a payoff of early quality childhood education for families, for communities and economies, but especially for child development.
“While investments in the early years more than pay for themselves, the return is more substantial when factoring the impact on special education,” Professor Philpott said.
“Collectively, this research offers a wealth of irrefutable insight for policy-makers.”
Professor Philpott said these outcomes stem from the finding that the skills typically targeted by early childhood education programming are likely precursors of children’s ability to maintain a positive academic trajectory.
“They include cognitive skills in language, literacy and math and socio-emotional capacities in self-regulation, motivation, engagement and persistence,” he said.
*The article, which originally appeared in The Conversation, has been edited for length.