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Reading between the lines: A closer look at the effectiveness of early childhood education policy to reduce inequality in Argentina

By Agustina S. Paglayan

Abstract

This study looks at Argentina’s early childhood education policy, to determine whether it “ensures quality education and equal opportunities, without regional disparities and socio-economic inequities” –the main purpose of education policy in that country. In particular, the study examines how public kindergartens’ effect on children’s early literacy development compares to the effect of their alternative, private kindergartens. Panel data collected between 2004 and 2006 by Argentina’s urban household survey is used to estimate a logit model for the probability of knowing how to read and write by the end of first grade. Estimations take into consideration the complex design of the survey data employed. The validity of the results obtained is further checked by the use of quasi-experimental econometric techniques. The study finds that, net of important individual, family, community and geographic characteristics, attending a public kindergarten has some effect on the probability that a child will know how to read and write by the end of first grade, but attending a private kindergarten has a more substantial effect on this probability. The difference between public and private kindergartens is found to be larger in the poorest regions of the country, as well as among the poorest families. In turn, the analysis finds that knowing how to read and write by the end of first grade reduces the probability of repeating that grade. These findings are relevant to education policymaking in Argentina, where efforts have focused on expanding the coverage of preschool services, largely disregarding that there is a fundamental problem of unequal opportunities among children in terms of access to high-quality early childhood education. Specific policy recommendations that could improve the quality of public preschools are suggested, taking into account the political difficulty to introduce profound reforms in the education system.early childhood education; Argentina; education quality; public preschool; private preschool; education inequality

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