I’m trying this month to provide brief answers to some questions that have come up when I’ve given presentations on early childhood programs.
Today’s question: “How does the short-run intervention of early childhood programs lead to such large long-run effects?” In other words, it’s quite extraordinary that even one school year of half-day preschool at age 4 can significantly increase the participant’s future adult earnings. What’s the logic behind such long-run effects of short-run interventions?
The key to the long-term effects of high-quality early childhood programs is that such programs don’t just teach kids a few extra letters or numbers. The programs also provide kids with better soft skills – how to get along with other kids, how to get along with teachers, how to plan and wait their turn.
The better skills that kids get in preschool and other early childhood programs lead to them doing better in kindergarten, which leads to even better skill development in kindergarten. And so on – success at each age leads to further skill development and success at the next age level.
In other words, if you develop a child’s skills early enough, and in a comprehensive enough manner, the skills you develop will not depreciate over time, but rather will appreciate over time.
These better hard skills and soft skills will then translate in adulthood into a person who is more productive in the workplace, and who is a more valuable employee. The former preschool participant will benefit from higher earnings. The business that hires this former preschool participant will benefit from a more productive employee.
This more productive employee will not only have better literacy and math skills but also will have better soft skills. They will work better in teams with fellow employees, get along better with supervisors, relate better to customers, and be better able to plan and lead on the job. These soft skills are at least as important as hard skills to success on the job, and to a productive local economy.