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SPP Professor Awarded NIH Grant to Study Impact of Mandatory Preschool in Mexico

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image of letters on table in preschool classroom
Photo by Gautam Arora on Unsplash

In countless corners of the world, the gateway to education remains firmly shut for millions of children, with preschool education an unattainable prospect. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization data shows that one in four five-year-old children have never had any form of pre-primary education. This inaccessibility resonates across borders and paints a stark reality where the foundational steps toward learning are out of reach for many children. It is a silent crisis that demands attention to help bridge the gap to early education for every child, regardless of their geographical location or socioeconomic status. 

Amid the global struggle for equitable access to education, Policy Professor Susan W. Parker was awarded a National Institutes of Health grant to investigate the impact of mandatory preschool on learning outcomes in Mexico’s low-and-middle-income context. Parker is aiming to fill a critical gap in the understanding of preschool's effects, focusing on a major low- and middle-income country (LMIC) with a nationwide pre-primary mandate. This study holds the potential to influence public policy decisions in Mexico as well as in other developing nations.

In 2002, Mexico initiated an educational reform that mandated three years of pre-primary education before the start of primary school. Starting in 2004, this reform was phased in with the goal of addressing the country’s educational disparities. Parker notes that, while pre-primary education is increasingly recognized as a key instrument for improving educational and life outcomes, existing evidence predominantly focuses on high-income countries and on targeted programs rather than broad universal programs.

Parker's research seeks to address this gap by examining the nationwide effects of Mexico's pre-primary reform in a LMIC context. The study analyzes how these effects may vary based on gender, indigeneity, disability and socioeconomic status.

Using data from Mexico that spans over seven years and includes 21 million students, the study will provide new insights into how changes in pre-primary education impact the academic performance of children in primary school approximately five years after the reforms were introduced.

Parker acknowledges the challenges faced by millions who endure a lifelong lack of opportunities due to Mexico’s extreme inequality, and the potential impact early education can have in mitigating that inequality. "A critical step towards improving programs is understanding the effects they have on all groups and not assuming the effects are the same for all."

Parker hopes findings from the study will contribute to better-informed early education policy decisions and the creation of equitable learning opportunities for children on a global scale.

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