Early childhood education centres reduce gaps in learning in India
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Spark: The importance of early childhood education has been widely acknowledged across cultural contexts but little is known on its longitudinal impacts on children's learning outcomes.
Gap in research: Even though government-funded early childhood education programmes provide essential opportunities for children from under-represented backgrounds to progress into primary school, we do not know to what extent this advantage is maintained and whether early childhood education programme provides the same amount of "boost in learning" for different groups of children, e.g. girls vs boys, children with mothers completed Grade 5 vs children with mothers not completed Grade 5
Research context: We examined N=11,000+ children in Assam, Rajasthan and Telangana states in India. Initial achievement was assessed when children aged 4. Following assessments were taken at age 5, 6, 7 and 8. We modelled the learning trajectories of "initially highest-achieving girls" vs "initially lowest-achieving boys" as well as "initially highest-achieving children with mothers not completed Grade 5" vs "initially lowest-achieving children with mothers completed Grade 5".
We found different patterns of learning trajectories in these three states, with Telangana experiencing the greatest equality in learning. That is, regardless of gender and mother's level of education, initially higher-achieving children gradually got caught up by initially lower-achieving children but were never overtaken.
In Assam and Rajasthan, we observed that initially higher-achieving children with mothers not completed Grade 5 were able to maintain their advantages till the end of preschool (age 5) but were overtaken by their lower-achieving peers after age 6.
Take-home message: in line with existing studies, we found evidence that private/government-funded schools exacerbate learning inequalities over time. However, we did find evidence that initially higher-achieving children were able to maintain their advantages beyond the first year of primary school. We further examined literatures on the quality of government-funded early childhood education programmes in Telangana, where we found that teaching practices tended to be more flexible and larger proportion of time was spent on play-based learning. Future research are called to examine whether teaching practices adopted by early childhood education programmes could differentiate longitudinal impacts on children's learning.