Parents and kids tend to not give kindergarten too much attention. It’s not mandatory in many countries, and even when it is, it’s often simply overlooked. But a new study shows we shouldn’t be too quick to dismiss pre-school.

“Preschool absences may undermine the benefits of high-quality preschool education,” explains Arya Ansari, postdoctoral research associate at the University of Virginia, the study’s lead author.

Skipping Kindergarten might have a negative impact later on in a child’s education. tImage credits: Paebi.

Studies on pre-school education are not as abundant as others further down the education line because pre-school attendance is not mandated and it’s hard to ensure inclusiveness and relevancy. Even official programs don’t always track this attendance. Also, little is known about why kids don’t attend pre-school and what impact this has on their further education.

Still, Ansari and her team managed to find information on 2,842 children ages 3 and 4 years who attended Head Start in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. Head Start is a program of the United States Department of Health and Human Services that provides comprehensive early childhood education, health, nutrition, and parent involvement services for low-income families. They noted that most of the kids were from ethnic-minority households and came from single-parent families.

The team found that on average, kids missed eight days of the school year, but 12% of children were chronically absent — meaning they skipped 10% or more of the school year. The more days kids missed, the more “holes” they had in terms of their overall education. Excessive absenteeism was also correlated with a less developed skill set in terms of overall education and interpersonal interaction.

While authors caution that correlation does not imply causation and the exact impact of preschool absenteeism are still not properly understood, there are serious reasons for concern. They hope that all involved stakeholders will be more involved to ensure that kids step on the right path from the earliest stages.

“Preschool teachers and administrators, as well as researchers and policymakers, should make efforts to reduce preschool absences,” says Kelly M. Purtell, assistant professor of human sciences at The Ohio State University, who coauthored the study. “One way to do this is to discuss the challenges to attendance that parents face and work with them to reduce these barriers.”

Journal Reference: Arya Ansari, Kelly M. Purtell. Absenteeism in Head Start and Children’s Academic Learning. Child Development, 2017; DOI: 10.1111/cdev.12800

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