In a so called “get tough on crime” agenda, Canada’s federal government is going to spend tens of millions of dollars on new prisons. Does research suggest this is an effective and wise investment, particularly when crime rates are falling? Research from United States that is reported by Kayla Webley in the Oct 10 2011 issue of Time. suggests we would be better of if we invested in early childhood education. From Webley’s Time article entitled “Preschool Wars”:

“Child development researchers at the University of North Carolina published a study last fall that found that low-income students who participated in the state’s “More at Four” pre-K program had higher math and reading scores in third grade than their low- income peers who did not attend preschool. This finding is especially important, as recent studies point to third grade as a critical benchmark: if children are not performing at grade level by then, they may never catch up. According to an April study led by Donald Hernandez, a sociology professor at the City University of New York, 1 in 6 students who can’t read at grade level by third grade will not finish high school by age 19, four times the rate of proficient readers. Hernandez also parsed the data based on household income and found that 26% of third-graders who have lived in poverty and aren’t reading at grade level will drop out or fail to graduate on time, more than six times the rate for proficient readers. Further evidence of early learning’s long-term benefits comes from a study begun in 1962 in Ypsilanti, Mich., that tracked two groups of low-income students-those who attended preschool and those who did not. Researchers found that at age 40, the participants who attended preschool had attained higher levels of education, earned higher wages, were more likely to own a home and were less likely to have been incarcerated than those who did not attend preschool, even though as a group they had IQs no higher than the other group’s.”

According to Dr Julia O’Sullivan, Dean of Education at Western Ontario, and lead author of the 2009 Canadian Education Statistics Council report entitled “Key Factors To Support Literacy Success In School-Aged Populations” 30- 40% of Canadian children do not read well enough to benefit from instruction past grade 6. If  governments really wanted to reduce crime, they ought to invest in our children to ensure all our grade 3’s – reading delayed and dyslexic, are proficient readers. What Canada needs is a National Literacy Strategy to focus on reading fluency.  Would it be wiser to fund early literacy programs like headstart instead of building more prisons? The research gives an unequivocal yes.