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A Journalist Comments on the Need for Greater Attention to Early Childhood Education (June 30, 2006)

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Without any additional funding the quality of day care centers cannot be improved, predicts Stefan Sell, social economist at the Koblenz Polytechnic. Germany spends about 0.5 percent of its gross national product on early childhood education and care. That is far less than countries such as France (0.7 percent), Denmark (0.8 percent), and Norway (1.0 percent), and far from the one-percent benchmark recommended by the OECD. Also, parent contributions in this country are higher than in almost all other countries. In Berlin, for example, the highest rate is 400 Euro per month for day care.

According to the report on children and adolescents, about 2.7 billion Euro is needed to offer all-day programs for all children under six to all parents who are interested. That’s one billion less than what family minister Ursula von der Leyen wants to spend in the future on parental benefits. It would be wiser to invest that money in day care centers, since the problem nowadays is less about families’ lack of money and more about the lack of available day care facilities. The federal government is not permitted to pay for this, however, since day care funding is the responsibility of the federal states and, especially, the local governments. But their coffers are empty. Plus, the financial boost from expanded day care facilities goes to the federal government since more working women pay taxes and contribute to social security. Economist Sell asks: “Why should a mayor invest in his day care centers?”

The overall social benefit of good childcare is enormous. But this insight easily goes missing, since the situation is so complex. According to a famous long-term U.S. study, for every dollar the government invests in good early childhood education, it gets up to seven dollars back down the road: through lower welfare costs, higher tax revenues, lower crime rates. Unfortunately, the gains don’t materialize until decades later, when the children are grown up and have jobs instead of collecting welfare. And that’s a time frame that extends well beyond a legislative period.

Source: Martin Spiewak, “Der Schatz der frühen Jahre” [“The Riches of Early Childhood”], Die Zeit, June 30, 2006.

Translation: Allison Brown

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