In the year 1972, the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institue in North Carolina conducted an ambitious, controlled experiment to gauge the potential benefits of early childhood education on children belonging to low-income families.
The subjects in this experiment were 111 infants – all identified as “high-risk” based on demographics like maternal education, family income, etc – born between 1972 and 1977. A majority of the children – 98 per cent – were African-American; 57 participants were provided with high quality childcare, while the remaining 54 functioned as a control group (or comparison group). Educational activities consisted of programs designed to enhance cognitive, social and emotional development. The control group participants were provided with health care and social services, to ensure that these factors did not affect the outcome of the experiment.
The Abecedarian Project started from infancy and continued for five years. Follow up studies were conducted at ages 12, 15 and 21.
According to a new study, the adults who participated in the education program ‘are still benefitting from their early experiences in a variety of ways.’
Follow up studies have shown that subjects belonging to the first group have excelled on many parameters: Higher cognitive scores from the toddler years to the age of 21; a higher percentage of participants graduated from a four year college – 23% – as compared to 6 % of the control group; a sturdy period of consistent employment – 75 per cent of the participants had worked full time for at least 16 months of the previous two years, compared to 53 per cent of the control group. (Participants also fared better on other socio-economic parameters, but the researchers say those results are not “statistically significant”.)
The follow up has also revealed that mothers of Abecedarian Project participants achieved higher educational and employment status.
Dr Frances Campbell, lead author of the study, says that “being able to follow this study sample over so many years has shown us that the (socio-economic) benefits we see at age 30 are (intimately) associated with an early childhood educational experience”.