Early learning irrelevant in Louisiana!
Legislators were high-fiving this week over the balancing of the state budget by increasing the already highest sales tax in the nation. Fully funding the TOPS tuition program for college students became the centerpiece for much of the discussion. But through all the euphoria of self-congratulation, lost in the shuffle was the failure to address or even discuss early childhood leaning and funding the childcare assistance program.
There are 144,000 children who need early childhood care. Pre-school care for kids under four is almost non-existent in Louisiana. They come from households where both parents are working, or the single parent is holding down a job. A recent study by Tulane University's Education Research Alliance found that 90 percent of a child's brain development occurs between birth and age 4, and quality Pre-K programs are an important piece of that development. But many children in Louisiana don't have access to good childcare or pre-school.
Industry consultant Andrew Shapiro from Princeton says that Louisiana’s educational problems begin at the elementary level and build from there. “To have a skilled labor force, preparation must begin the moment future workers enter the school system. The problem in Louisiana is that new students enter the system way too late. Louisiana is not creating a capable workforce that can compete,” Shapiro writes. He went on to say that Louisiana has no foothold in the growing high-tech field, and that job creation is suffering due to a lack of early learning skills. What makes this all the more disturbing is that there is virtually no discussion of funding and commitment to pre-school and elementary programs.
New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman writes about early learning skills in his national bestseller, “The World Is Flat.” He points out that the reason countries throughout the Far East are making such giant leaps in productivity is the emphasis placed on teaching the Internet to young learners. A child in a small mountain village in China has just as much access to information as a student in any Louisiana public school. How many legislative candidates or those aspiring to lead the state did you hear talking about computer access for our young people in the most recent election?
What we have not recognized is that there is a great disparity in learning accessibility throughout Louisiana. Middle and upper-class kids have laptops they can take home at night and have full access to the Internet. But Louisiana has the highest underclass of poor kids in the country. And by and large, they have little exposure to the world of computers.
Our educators have made little effort to bring cheaper laptops into the classroom. A number of other states are actively seeking grants to give laptops to students who can’t afford to purchase one of the new less expensive laptops. A national organization called the $100 Laptop Project will ship between 50 and 100 million laptops a year to children in underdeveloped countries. So if there is a will, we can help kids throughout the world, but our elected officials are reluctant to make the same commitment to children right here in Louisiana.
Just how important is it for a state to become computer literate? The Internet has become the overwhelming driving force as an information source in the world today.
One out of every eight couples married in the U.S. last year met online.
There are over two and a half billion registered users of Facebook.
There are over 2.7 billion searches performed on Google each month.
The number of text messages sent and received every day exceeds the population of the planet.
The amount of new technical information is doubling every 12 months. According to IBM, new technology will soon allow the doubling of knowledge every 12 hours.
Simply put, if a Louisiana child does not have access to their own computer both during the school day and at home in the evening and on weekends, they will be, for all practical purposes, functionally illiterate as they grow older. Since Louisiana has one of the highest percentages of children below the poverty line, it would seem imperative that the focus be on early learning, training and developing a plan to put an affordable laptop into the hands of every child in Louisiana public schools.
So legislators, no more “high fives.”
You still have a lot of work to do.
Peace and Justice Jim Brown
Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide. You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at http://www.jimbrownusa.com. You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9:00 am till 11:00 am Central Time on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at http://www.jimbrownusa.com.