It seems like a big leap from kindergarten to competing in the global marketplace. But the effects of early education are numerous and far reaching, even affecting the job you might have years in the future.
“We have jobs we can’t fill because we don’t have the skilled labor in the state. We are actually importing our workforce and exporting the work elsewhere,” said Dr. Celia Ayala, chief executive officer of Los Angeles Universal Preschool. “When children do not have the skills and don’t do well in elementary school, when they transition to middle school and high school without those skills, it’s heartbreaking to see. The graduation rates are so low in the state. Early education will determine the workforce.”
Here in California, the state is adding more jobs than all other states, yet the unemployment rate remains high—10.6 percent. One cause is the massive mismatch of people who are out of work with the skills needed for the jobs being created.
“California is adding jobs rapidly if not more rapidly than any other place in the United States,” said Jerry Nikelsburg of the UCLA Anderson Forecast. “But unemployment remains high because the people who are displaced are from jobs that are not coming back. The jobs that are coming back are those in, say, manufacturing, where different skills are needed. We have a mismatch. Looking forward we need to focus on early childhood education—for skills that are needed for the 21st-century workforce—cognitive skills, association skills, skills required for working in an environment heavily dependent on computerization for that task.”
UCLA’s Anderson School of Management recently discussed the economic impact of early childhood education (ages 0 to 5) during a one-day conference in Los Angeles. It turns out those years before children even arrive at a kindergarten make a big difference.
“Entering kindergarten today without any experience in any early childhood center or parents who don’t have time to read to their kids, exposing them to language, children begin at a deficit,” said Dr. Ayala. “In order to close in on the achievement gap, children entering kindergarten need to be ready, willing and able to thrive by having the necessary emotional, cognitive skills needed to be successful and it starts in preschool.”
- Studies have shown that early education benefits a whole host of stats:
- Raises percentage of high school graduates
- Raises percentage of those who go on to secondary education
- Increases change of getting higher paying jobs
- Lowers percentage of teenage pregnancy
- Lowers percentage of kids in trouble with the law
“If we don’t invest early on, we’re going to pay up to five times more later,” said Dr. Ayala.
California now ranks 44th in the nation as to how much we invest in education.
“It’s economics 101,” added Dr. Ayala. “Our elected leaders need to invest more dollars into education because if we don’t invest — I’ve seen it as a teacher, as a principal — if we don’t get kids to become proficient readers, proficient writers, proficient mathematicians by third grade, we will be in trouble.”
Tackling this problem now won’t immediately fix California’s economic woes, however our future could become golden again.
“People who are displaced now, who need new training were educated in a particular way in a particular paradigm,” said Nickelsburg. “We need to rethink that paradigm, because the old way is not working for the next generation’s workforce. If we don’t change what we’re doing and invest in the next generation, if California is going to remain a high-wage state, it requires us to do something different.