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“Occupy the Classroom,” a column written by Nick Kristof of the New York Times, suggests that the “Occupy Wall Street” movement in the United States is fueled at least in part by this country’s rising inequality, and argues that expanding early childhood education is the single step that would do the most to reverse the trend. “[A] good education tends to be the most reliable escalator out of poverty…[and]…disadvantaged kids often don’t get a chance to board that escalator.”
Kristof cites Heckman’s work at the University of Chicago showing that investments in early childhood education pay a return of 7 percent or more, and other studies suggesting that early childhood education is associated with better health, lower levels of crime, higher graduation rates and higher levels of home ownership.
Given Latin America’s high rates of inequality, and the resentment—most obvious in Chile—that appears to be growing among the region’s citizens, governments might be well-advised to take investments in quality early childhood education for the poor more seriously. The question may be, as Kristof suggests, not whether we can afford early childhood education, but whether we can afford not to provide it.