Rebuilding social justice  |  Successes  |  30.08.2011

Irish Greens introduce free pre-school: giving all children the best possible start

The evidence is clear that educational disadvantage can set in at an extremely early age. As Nobel-Prize-winning economists James Heckman has argued, such early education is crucial to developing “soft skills” that are essential for later employment prospects. This was confirmed by the famous “Perry Preschool Project”, which indicated that children receiving preschool had startlingly different outcomes to those that didn’t. For example children who received pre-school were, at age 27, half as likely to be arrested and earned 50% more than those who didn’t attend preschool. 

With this is mind, the Irish Green Party prioritised early education during their time in Government between 2007 and 2011. A major success was the introduction of a year’s free pre-schooling for all children in Ireland. Known as the “Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE)” scheme, it which was described at the time as a major advancement in ensuring equality at the most important developmental time of a child’s life. It is available to all children in Ireland, regardless of income.

The scheme cost in the region of €170 million a year, and was warmly welcomed by children’s NGOs at the time. Launched in 2009, by 2011 it had a virtually 100% uptake of eligible children in its first year. At a time when the Irish Government was being forced to introduce massive cutbacks in spending to the recession, this was projected as a crucial investment in the future of Ireland’s economy and society. 

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