How investments in early childhood can help increase graduation rates

Did you know in 2009/2010 one in four of Alberta’s 18 to 19 year olds had not graduated high school?

The next few weeks will represent a milestone in the lives of many Alberta students – high school graduation!  Finishing high school can be a very exciting time as graduates begin to explore the many opportunities that lie ahead.  But for the 9000 students a year who don’t graduate from high school in Alberta, the outlook can be much different and the future a little less bright.  That is because not finishing high school is associated with:

  • Higher levels of unemployment and lower earnings when employed;

  • Poorer health and higher levels of risky health behaviour such as smoking or having low levels of physical activity; and

  • Greater use of social assistance, public services and subsidies.

It is estimated that Alberta’s annual high school drop outs cost the province $142 million per year in unemployment, lost tax revenue, social assistance, judicial system and health care costs.

United Way is committed to increasing the high school completion rates in Alberta by investing in children and youth, starting from conception to adulthood.  Some may wonder, “How can investments in babies and young children change graduation rates?”  Research shows that every dollar spent in the early years (0-6) on quality learning, development, parenting and care programs brings significant future returns compared to money spent on later interventions.

It also tells us that children whose development is nurtured early in life are more likely to be successful in school and are more likely to finish high school and seek further education or training.  Through initiatives such as Success By 6®, United Way is educating our community on the benefits of a strong and healthy start to life.

New data from ECMap, a five-year research and community-building project funded by the Government of Alberta, shows that in Alberta from 2009 to 2011 combined EDI data for more than 40,000 kindergarten children indicates that 27 per cent of Alberta children are experiencing great difficulty in one or more areas of development when entering school. The Canadian norm is 25 per cent. This means that they may struggle to hold a pencil, play cooperatively with their peers, tell a short story about their day, or follow classroom instructions.  Research also shows that children who start school behind often have difficulty catching up to their peers and are at higher risk of becoming disengaged and dropping out.  These facts and figures help to highlight the importance of all children entering school with the tools and supports they need to be successful.

High school graduation rates is an issue that affects all Albertans, however if we work together we CAN make a change.  If we act NOW and invest in prevention, we can ens

ure that all children enter school ready to learn and remain supported throughout their entire school journey.  As the 2011 report, Shaping Alberta’s Future: Report of the Premier’s Council for Economic Strategy states, “Early childhood development is a critical issue for the whole community. It should be a matter of intense interest to government, business and economic leaders, as well as educators, health care providers, social service agencies, parents and families. What children experience in the womb and before the age of six has a lifelong impact on their ability to participate in the economy and in society. Ensuring every child receives the best possible start is therefore an important investment in the future prosperity and quality of life for all in the province.”

Angela Dorval is a Communications Specialist for Success By 6®, a community initiative managed by United Way, focused on ensuring all children from 0-6 years have the supports they need for a lifetime of healthy growth and development.