Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Investment in chidren: the earlier, the better.

While looking for data on the effects of standardized testing on human creativity, I found in Science (DOI: 10.1126/science.1128898) an interesting graph showing return on education for disadvantaged children.

The caption below the figure reads:

Rates of return to human capital investment in disadvantaged children. The declining figure plots the payout per year per dollar invested in human capital programs at different stages of the life cycle for the marginal participant at current levels of spending. The opportunity cost of funds (r) is the payout per year if the dollar is invested in financial assets (e.g., passbook savings) instead. An optimal investment program from the point of view of economic efficiency equates returns across all stages of the life cycle to the opportunity cost. The figure shows that, at current levels of funding, we overinvest in most schooling and post-schooling programs and underinvest in preschool programs for disadvantaged persons. Adapted from (3) with permission from MIT Press.

People invented branch grafting in gardening to solve the problem of getting "strong roots" fast. We don't have anything like that to improve the lot of poor kids. Will digital books help solve this problem? Probably not, but it could be an element of the solution.

Another thought: this pattern might work for regular kids too. That is, investing in early stages of development can be very efficient, but not obvious enough for a quick fix - it just takes years and years before the results become visible.

tags: education, problem, information, control, health, system, synthesis 

References: James J. Heckman. Skill Formation and the Economics of Investing in Disadvantaged Children. Science. 2006 Jun 30;312(5782):1900-2.

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