Nova workboard

a blog from young economists at Nova SBE

Should Portugal invest on Preschool education?


            Despite the fact that the number of students enrolled in Portuguese schools and the number of qualified Portuguese students has been increasing, Portugal continues to present results far below the European average[1]. At the beginning of this month, the Portuguese government created a work group to consider future developments of Preschool education[2]. In Portugal, there are still many children that are not enrolled in kindergartens and the percentage of parents that face high costs by putting their children on a preschool is increasing with the economic crisis[3]. Would a higher investment on Preschool education in Portugal bring valuable results for the country?

            First, it is relevant to ask if early education can actually influence future education and earnings. Many countries seem to believe so. Finland has had universal access to full-daycare and preschool since 1996, claiming it is one of the causes for its successful later education results[4]. Even President Obama recently proposed an expansion of early childhood education programs in order to expand its benefits for every child. The US is planning to invest $75 billion in preschool and studies show that for each dollar spent, $11 in economic benefits will be generated[5]. Both Neurological studies – that state that 90% of brain growth occurs during the first five years of life[6] – and several economic studies support this. Chetty et al.(2010) held a particularly interesting study on how kindergarten classroom affects earnings and other outcomes, collecting evidence from Project Star[7]. They conclude that early education has substantial long-term impacts on later outcomes such as college attendance or earnings. They find however an interesting element. Preschool quality does not have a direct impact on 8th grade test scores. They state that a possible explanation for this “fade-out” effect is the fact that what is learned in kindergarten that influences adult outcomes may be non-cognitive skills such as persistency, self-discipline, leadership, adaptability and other social skills. It may be that the low results on adult education and employment outcomes of Portugal are related to this lack of non-cognitive skills. Research should be made in order to conclude if this is the case.

            If we believe that the lack of teaching of non-cognitive skills in early ages may end up harming education results in Portugal, it would make sense to rethink the policies on early education. Taking the example of Nordic countries, there may be two options. The first would be extend the maternity/paternity license so that parents could stay at home with their children and teach them those skills. However, and being Portugal one of the countries with the highest income inequality[8] this would possibly aggravate it as that education would probably depend on the family’s income). The other hypothesis, and also following the US example, would be to make kindergarten education accessible to all and to improve its quality.

            Studies must be done to perform a cost-benefit analysis of both hypotheses. Nevertheless, based on other countries experiences and on literature, I believe an extension of preschool education would have extremely positive long-term impacts on Portugal.


Joana Cardim



Author: studentnovasbe

Master student in Nova Sbe

2 thoughts on “Should Portugal invest on Preschool education?

  1. Pingback: Can Pre-School Education Serve as a Growth Engine? | Nova workboard

  2. It is believed that early childhood education affects children’s performance in their later education. Indeed, research conducted by OECD [1] showed that there is a correlation: those 15-years-old pupils who attended preschool education had better results in school than those who did not attended pre-primary education. Moreover, according to the research results, the performance tends to be better in educational systems with longer pre-primary education, smaller pupil-to-teacher ratios in preschool education and higher public expenditure per pupil in pre-primary education. Therefore, when a government wants to improve preschool educational system in a country, these issues are raised in the first place.
    Due to the fact that Finland’s educational system has been considered as the best in the world, many countries tend to look at it as at benchmark in different aspects of education. If we look at the statistics, we will see that indeed, Finland has one of the smallest pupil-to-teacher ratios across OECD countries – 11 (Portugal – 15,7, the US – 14,6). However, other indicators are quite controversial. Thus, expenditure per pupil at preschool level in Finland is 5 553 US dollars, while 5 661 US dollars spent in Portugal and in the US – 8 396. In Finland pre-primary education is available for children at the age of 0 (in Portugal also at 0, in the US at 3), however enrollment rate in Finland is relatively low till the age of 6 (for example, 64% at the age of 5 against 93% in Portugal and 80% in the US). At the age of 6 this indicator reaches 99% in Finland. The reason is that basic school in Finland starts at the age of 7 while in the US and Portugal – at 6. In Finland before basic school starts (it is mandatory for all children) children may participate in one year preschool program, which is voluntary.
    Thus we can see that the duration of preschool education probably does not have that strong effect on children’s future performance. Some studies show that it is not the fact itself that a child attends kindergarten makes contribution into his/her future progress in studies, but the environment in what the child grows, i.e. his/her family. During one of the studies [2] researchers every day recorded a one hour conversation between parents and children from 42 American families of different social classes. They discovered that children from a family of professionals heard about 30 million words by the time when they turn 3 years old, while 20 million and 10 million words were heard by children in working-class and welfare families respectively. Also they mentioned that children from richer families are more likely to attend preschool as their parents can afford this.
    Now let’s return to Finland. The fact that mothers in Finland receive “child home care allowance” (approx. 340 euro [3] per month) if they stay with children at home may support the research results above. Additionally, the Finnish system of day-care centers and family day care (which is free for everyone) is very flexible and based on the principle of individual approach so that a child receives comprehensive care with high attention to every child.
    To sum up, it must be said that there are many factors which sometimes difficult to take into account (such as culture and history) and not every experience can be applied in another country. However, some implications may and should be used when developing government policy in education. For example, the Finnish approach to education with less pressure and stress for children (in terms of competition, assessment, and learning methods) can give some food for thought to the American one, where children start reading and math at the age of 3-5. So the question about the extension of preschool education might be even more about support of parents and used teaching methods and curriculum at institutions rather than duration of preschool and participation rate.


    Alina Perkhunova