Strong schools save when finances drop
A study has revealed a new benefit of effective early childhood education, and again showed just how advanced some Scandinavian education systems are.
In Norway, publicly subsidised high-quality early childhood education and care is available to all children, from low-income to affluent, starting at age 1.
Norwegian public education expenditure is equal to 6.8 per cent of the nation's GDP, whereas Australia's is closer to 4.5 per cent.
A new study has found that this universal access to high-quality early learning can actually buffer children from some behavioural problems.
Researchers at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health have found that children who do not take part in the subsidised programs have more early behaviour problems at times when their families' income drops.
When families' incomes (adjusted for family size and yearly median income in Norway) decreased, their children's behaviour problems increased, the study found.
Conversely, when families' incomes increased, their children's behaviour problems decreased.
These patterns were strongest in low-income families, so fluctuations in income seemed to matter most for those with the least.
Children in both low and middle income households who attended high-quality centres had stable, low levels of internalising problems (such as withdrawal and anxiety) regardless of whether their families experienced worsening or improving economic circumstances.
The researchers drew their data from a longitudinal study of more than 75,000 children and their families who participated in assessments from birth through age 3.
When children were 1 and a half and 3 years old, mothers reported on children's aggression and noncompliance (externalising problems), withdrawal and anxiety (internalising problems), and attendance at an early childhood and care centre.
Children who did not attend a centre or were not cared for by a parent or family member were typically cared for by a family day care, nanny, or outdoor nursery (monitored playground); all of which are unregulated.
At 36 months, almost 88 per cent of the children were in an early childhood education and care centre.
“Even in a context such as Norway, which has relatively little income inequality and relatively strong social supports for families, children in low-income families still appear to be sensitive to acute fluctuations in income, a finding that's also been demonstrated in the United States,” according to researchers Henrik Daae Zachrisson and Eric Dearing.
“However, children in regulated, high-quality early childhood education and care centres appear to be protected against the negative effects of changes in income within families when it comes to internalising problems.”