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Education

Preschool Can Benefit Poor Children's Families for Generations: Study


Why Global Citizens Should Care
Vulnerable children living in poverty need access to education to overcome their economic circumstances. New research shows parental involvement in education gives children the opportunities to lift themselves, and generations after them, out of poverty. You can join us and take action on this issue here

When at-risk youth living in poverty receive early education, their siblings and children also benefit, according to new research published on Tuesday.

Early childhood economist and Nobel Prize winner James Heckman and Ganesh Karapakula of the University of Chicago looked at how the HighScope Perry Project program, which implemented high-quality preschool and home visits from school staff, impacted children’s families in the future, according to Quartz. 

The participants of the program, which was conducted in the 1960s, were more likely to have graduated from high school, hold a job, own their own home and car, and to make more money than those who weren’t enrolled. This was due to support from caregivers, the researchers wrote in the report “Perry Preschool: Intergenerational Effects Toolkit.” Their siblings were also less likely to be involved in crime. 

“This understanding can help us devise policies for poverty alleviation across multiple generations, although of course the policies must be tailored to meet the needs of various populations,” Karapakula told Global Citizen via email.

The study traces the progress of 123 black participants in Michigan, who enrolled in Perry Preschool as low-income children who were 3 or 4 years old and are now in their 50s. The researchers measured the children’s success, not just by test scores but by all facets of their lives, including their economic, social, and family lives.

The Perry Preschool participants and their children benefited from the program because it improved life and parent engagement, not because the children moved to different neighborhoods, Heckman told reporters on Monday, according to education news organization Chalkbeat. Students with involved parents are more likely to have higher grades and test scores, attend school regularly, have better social skills, show improved behavior and adapt well to school, according to the National Coalition for Parent Involvement in education.

Read More: Child Poverty Costs the US Nearly $1.1 Trillion Every Year

Early childhood interventions that improve parent involvement modeled on Perry Preschool can’t be applied to universal education programs, because they are specifically tailored to underserved children, according to Heckman. Targeting disadvantaged children ensures that more resources are allocated to the programs meant for children who benefit from additional support, Karapakula said.

Education programs in the US, like the federally funded Head Start preschool program for underserved youth, and the Reggio Emilia child-led curriculum model, use methods similar to the one used by Perry Preschool, according to Heckman. 

“We are also seeing the success of programs in Jamaica and China that share some aspects of the Perry intervention,” Karapakula said.