The experiences we have as small children have a long-term impact on the entire course of our development. High-quality education and upbringing from an early age is thus crucial both for every individual and for society as a whole.
In their statement “Socialisation in early childhood ─ Biological, psychological, linguistic, sociological and economic perspectives”, the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina, the National Academy of Science and Engineering, and the Union of the German Academies of Sciences and Humanities are therefore calling for long-term investments in the high-quality education and care of small children.
“Current research findings show that there are crucial time periods in early childhood when children must have certain learning experiences and encounters with their environment,” says Prof. Frank Rösler, Senior Professor of Biopsychology and Neuropsychology at Universität Hamburg and spokesperson for the “Socialisation in early childhood” working group. “Children who are denied these experiences will not be able to develop their full potential. They will not be able to acquire certain modes of behaviour later in life, or only to a limited extent.” Rösler states that this applies particularly to learning a language other than one’s mother tongue, and to developing social skills and the mental capabilities for subsequent acquisition of knowledge in school.
In their statement, the academies emphasise that opportunities for children whose family environments are less conducive to learning could be greatly improved. It is vital that the need for additional support is recognised at an early stage to make sure that adequate education and care are not only offered at a point when the children have already passed through these crucial development phases. The delayed provision of such measures will have little impact.
The researchers also recommend that education policy considerations pay greater attention to the close interplay between nature and nurture in children’s development. They point out that an individual’s IQ is not predetermined from birth. Rather, negative and positive environmental factors have a considerable influence on the development of an individual’s genetic predispositions. At the same time, predispositions do set certain limitations. This means that even given favourable education and training, not all people will attain the same intellectual capacity. This fact must be considered when devising early childhood education measures and in schooling and vocational training. Each individual should be fostered and challenged in a way that allows him or her to fully develop his or her own potential.
The researchers who contributed to the statement come from the fields of psychology, neurobiology, linguistics, education, sociology and economics. The working group compiled and evaluated findings from all these disciplines. The statement documents research findings on early childhood development and their social relevance that all the participating researchers defined as incontestable. The authors also emphasise the need for additional research, particularly in the form of long-term interdisciplinary studies to investigate the interrelationship between intellectual, emotional and social experiences in early childhood and the development of the brain over the course of individual lives, as well as the effect these individual development paths have on society.
The statement is freely available here.