Early Bird Gets the Worm: A Case for Early Education

Published Jul 19, 2018

In many countries around the world, including Nigeria, primary education is a basic right for children. Unfortunately, national enrolment in both preschool (21%) and primary school (60%) are extraordinarily low in Nigeria. Of all the preschoolers in Nigeria, one in four is in private school, suggesting a shortage of public schooling available for young children. Even when children are sent to school, the eventual dropout rate is high due to economic hardship, practices of child labour, and child marriage. The situation is especially dire for girls. Because there are fewer women in the labour market, many of the teachers in Nigeria are male, which causes parents to withdraw their daughters from school which prevents them from obtaining the education required to be employed. It results in a vicious cycle with no end in sight. In certain regions of Nigeria, you may find one girl to every two boys, or even one girl to every three boys in preschools and primary schools.

Pre-primary schooling may not seem important, but early education is actually linked with many benefits that are important later on in life, such as better performance in higher-level schooling, lower dropout rate, less involvement in crime, and higher lifetime earnings. Early education is also integral to a child's cognitive, physical, and psychological development.

The period of fastest synaptic growth in the human brain occurs between the prenatal period and the age of three, where one million neural connections are made per second. After the age of three, synaptic growth gradually slows down. The period of greatest plasticity in the brain varies by brain region, but it always begins with a phase where the regions develops many more synapses than necessary. It is then followed by a stage of synaptic pruning, where the neural connections that are used infrequently are discarded in favour of strengthening the connections that are used more often.

There is no doubt that brain malleability is much greater in earlier stages of life. In addition, learning (and thus brain development) is serial and cumulative. This means that having a strong foundation of acquiring skills and knowledge early on in life makes for a strong foundation in brain development, which makes for more successful skill acquisition and more complex brain development as the individual grows. Conversely, a weak cerebral foundation introduces learning gaps and inadequate skill acquisition, which leads to a cycle of poor individual development. For instance, it has been found that by the internationals standards of primary education, illiteracy beyond grade two leads to irreparable repercussions for the individuals affected. This is all due to the fact that learning is cumulative, and classrooms don't tend to offer an opportunity for struggling students to catch up.

To address the current shortfall of early education in Nigeria, policy makers should:

  • Assess current education practices in public schools and determine ways to make improvements.
  • Become educated about how children learn, and make education policy recommendations based on the information.
  • Develop programs to address current social impediments to children's brain development, such as poor prenatal care, maternal diet and nutrition, and parental drug use.

As with learning itself, the improvement of education should begin at the foundational level. The sooner early education policies are rectified, the more children will benefit.

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Lilia Leung

A practising writer and information designer with an interest in technology, education, and people of the world.

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