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Intern Insights: Comparing Early Education Around the World

A month ago when I started this internship, I had no idea what child care systems looked like in Ohio, let alone across the world. After I read about Ohio’s different forms of early childhood education, I started to read about what it looks like in other countries. As I’ve researched, I’ve found a wide variety of systems, some more comprehensive than others. But even as child care systems have varied, I’ve found that most countries share a fundamental understanding: that an investment in early childhood education and care systems benefits the country in a multitude ways.

Take France, for example. France has one of the most comprehensive child care systems in the world, providing universal preschool for all children ages three and above. But France isn’t perfect by any means. While they have a decent public child care system set up for kids under the age of three, parents are commonly faced with years-long waitlists. This significant shortcoming is offset by France’s long history of supporting family policies as they’ve been embraced as fundamental to the French welfare system since the late 18th century. No matter how many changes have been made to the child care system, it has remained a pillar of French government. The French child care system has allowed the women’s labor force participation to climb at a steady rate, while the US’s remains fairly stagnant. Although France’s system has its flaws, its continuing commitment to child care policies have lead the way for other countries.

Even in countries with less extensive systems, early childhood education and care has become a priority. Mexico has a much more varied system of early childhood care centers to fit its large and diverse population. Despite efforts of the government to increase enrollment of younger kids in preprimary schools, the numbers remained relatively low for younger kids. To combat this issue, Mexico announced that three years of preprimary education starting at age three would be mandatory for all children. This was monumental as Mexico was the first country to ever make preprimary education mandatory. It’s had monumental effects with enrollment rates increasing 42.5% from 2000 to 2017. By making preschool compulsory, Mexico has started to bridge the large gap that exists between education in urban and rural settings and has begun creating a more equal starting point for all kids going into primary school. While Mexico still has a lot of work to create a more comprehensive system, the policies they’ve put into place have already started to solve social issues that have existed for decades.

Korea is another country where investment in early childhood education is relevant, although in a different way than most other countries. Korea has a relatively comprehensive child care system, but for many parents, it’s not enough. A vast majority of kids attend private schools called hagwons after their normal classes. A recent study found that 82% of five year olds and 36% of two year olds receive private education at one of these centers. Hagwons are not without their fair share of criticism, with many saying that these centers prevent young children from spending time with their family. And while the rigorous schedule may be too tough for young children, it works with older children. South Korea ranked ninth overall in the world on the PISA test. While the effects that hagwons have on younger children need to be studied more before they become even more prevalent for young kids, investing in them yields positive results in overall intelligence. For Korea, investing in the combination of private and public school education has successfully made their kids some of the smartest in the world.

Each of these systems has their individual strengths and weaknesses, but they’re united by something we seem to be missing: a commitment to early childhood education. After just hours of research, it became clear to me that investing in early childhood care and education is an incredibly smart decision. I don’t have any brilliant suggestions to where we should invest, but I think at least part of the solution lies in expanding programs that Ohio already has like Step Up to Quality and Help Me Grow. I think that giving early childhood centers the resources they need to get a five star rating and giving incentives for child care providers to expand into areas where children are particularly vulnerable is a good place to start from. At the end of the day, I don’t think we need a magic idea that’s going to solve the issues surrounding early childhood education, we just need to commit to doing better. And we have a good reason to. By investing in early childhood education, we’re investing in us, in our future, and in a brighter Ohio.

Alisha Mohsin joins us this summer before beginning her senior year at Columbus Academy. She leads a variety of student organizations including Mecca Club, Service Board, and United Columbus Academy. Through her leadership in these clubs, she hopes to change the culture of the school and create a more inclusive community for students with diverse backgrounds.

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