Author: Isabella Southwick

An article by Isabella Southwick examining the key role childhood early education plays in equity. She takes a deeper look at this topic through anecdotes, reports, and current initiatives and programs in the U.S. Isabella Southwick is currently a student at the University of Kansas pursuing a degree in political science with a concentration in public policy. In her spare time, she enjoys writing, you can view more of her content at

World Bank suggests fair education leads to an improved society in its latest report, “Fair Progress: Educational Mobility Around the World”. This point is most dramatically proven at the lowest education level – preschool. The United States does not currently function on a model of universal preschool but would benefit significantly from it. The universal preschool model can be described as a public institution for children under the age of 5 to receive a consistent and efficient amount of knowledge before they start primary school. World Bank points out, “Universal preschool programs can play an important equalizing role in early childhood, since skill formation is a dynamic process in which early inputs strongly affect the productivity of later inputs.” This means children who have access to a universal preschool program in their community would be able to achieve more in Kindergarten, which would have a direct positive effect on all grade levels to come.

As someone who attended an international Pre-K program, I can attest to the positive effect it had on my future education. My Pre-K was a part of a French-American school that started at preschool and continued until 12th grade. This school taught primarily in French, with instruction in English 40 minutes of each day. I only spoke English when I started attending this school at age 4 and it’s easy to say I was scared and confused for the majority of my first year. While most children my age were playing with blocks and learning how to socialize, I was learning how to color inside the lines and was expected to sit still for an entire hour long yoga class. I learned from an early age that the classroom was a place to learn and not play. I also learned the importance of listening to your teacher and following directions. While it was not the most fun experience, by attending a stricter and more regimented Pre-K I was able to obtain more skills. I learned how to write in cursive, which most students do not learn until 2nd or 3rd grade. I was also almost fluent in French by the end of Kindergarten, which can take older students years to do. This is just two examples of the many skills I was able to obtain in Kindergarten because of the skills I had in focus and direction to follow from my Pre-K program.

While I benefited from a strict early childhood education program, not everyone does and that is not the goal of a universal preschool. Universal preschool programs look more like a consistent accessible environment for children to gain a foundation for their brain development. This would be a place where teachers can devote equal attention to all children and focus on developing skills like “impulse control, attention, memory, and reasoning”. President Obama addressed the need for universal preschool in his 2013 State of the Union, where he points out that “study after study shows that the sooner a child begins learning the better he or she does down the road”. He then proposed the Preschool for All program that would allocate state funding to providing high quality preschool programs for lower income children. The program would also create standards for preschools, some of which included “a full-day program; higher staff qualifications, low adult-to-child ratios” and much more.

With all this being said why has the U.S. still not reached a universal preschool program in all states? The short answer is lack of funding. States have seen an increase in funding for Pre-K programs but in 2016 there were still five states that “do not invest in preschool programs – Idaho, Montana, New Hampshire, South Dakota, and Wyoming”. We need to push every state to not only allocate funds for universal preschool programs but also enforce the higher standards Obama suggested in his Preschool for All program. Stand for Children is a wonderful organization to get involved with if you are interested in improving public education, including preschools.

Find out more about Stand for Children in the video below:

This post is a part of a series on intergenerational mobility hosted by Friendship Ambassadors Foundation (FAF) in support of the World Bank’s #EndPoverty campaign. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FAF or the World Bank.