Early childhood education programmes (ECE) includes activities and experiences that seek to boost and foster developmental skills in infants before the advent of formal education at schools. Such education can be provided by teachers in specific programmes, or by parents who have the time to play with and educate their children at home.

ECE programmes are fairly flexible in that they can cover an array of educational experiences during the years of preschool (this is the critical period before nursery school begins). The overall goal is to prepare children adequately for the schooling system, and to improve their academic performance later in life. From about the 1950s, early childhood education has become a lot more recognised, and is now largely regarded as essential for infants.

Types of early childhood programmes

Various kinds of early childhood education exist. One of the earliest such programmes is titled Head Start, which began in 1965 in the United States. The head Start Programme aimed to teach free early childhood education to infants of low-income households. Indeed, children in poorer families usually receive little or no early education, because their parents spend more time at work to earn a living. This then disadvantages children who enter the schooling system without prior preparation. This is why Head Start Programmes were and continue to be so effective.

A large number of early childhood education programmes are privately run by companies, organisations, churches, individuals or private and public schools. These programmes usually require fees, and thus do not specifically target low-income families like the Head Start programmes. It is for this reason that infants from low-income families have a lesser chance of attending early childhood education programmes than those belonging to middle or upper class families.

Benefits of early childhood education

The benefits of early childhood educational are multiple and varied. Primarily, it has a positive influence on the way that children learn and develop. Indeed, early education, if of a sound quality, can militate against children dropping out of school later in their academic lives (particularly if said children come from low-income households).

While the advantages of these early childhood education programmes are numerous for children of all social classes and levels of income, the benefits are most pronounced for children from lower income households whose families have not high levels of formal education.

Some studies show that advantages of ECE programmes for infants of low income households are only temporary, but other studies show that the benefits are more long-term. For example, children who have had access to ECE programmes tend to improve consistently on achievement tests. Moreover, there is a lesser chance of having to repeat a year of school, or of being assigned to special education programmes.

Yet more benefits are that there are fewer chances of being involved in criminal activity, higher chances of graduating from high school, and a decrease in the potential to receive welfare from the state as adults. The higher the quality of early education programmes, the more long-term the benefits are likely to be for infants.