“If you can read this, thank a teacher.” It’s a cliche, but it’s true. If it weren’t for education at all levels, you wouldn’t be able to read, write, speak, think critically, make informed decisions, know right from wrong, effectively communicate, or understand how the world works. Another famous quote that proclaims the importance of education comes from George Orwell, “If people cannot write well, they cannot think well, and if they cannot think well, others will do their thinking for them.”
It goes without saying that an educated population advances a society, but why, exactly, do different subsets of education matter? Does physical education really make a difference, and do we need to be spending precious dollars on arts education? Unequivocally, the answer is yes, but continue reading below to find out why.
Why is Early Childhood Education Important
Before we can understand the importance of early childhood education, we should be on the same page about what age early childhood education refers to. Typically, early childhood education encompasses any education a child receives up until the age of eight, or around third grade.
During these initial years of life, children’s brains are growing and learning at a rapid rate, and learning typically comes very easy to them. The purpose of education at this stage is to build a solid foundation for children to build upon for the rest of their lives.
When looking at pre-school, one of the earliest educational opportunities, a meta-analysis of studies on the benefits of early childhood education found that “7–8 of every 10 preschool children did better than the average child in a control or comparison group” when looking at standard measures of intelligence and academic achievement. This makes sense, given that education in those early years sets children up for success.
Another study followed a group of students who were given early high-quality education and compared them to a control group. Years later, the students who were given a high-quality education performed better than the other students in many areas, both academically and socially. These students:
- Scored higher on standardized testing
- Had higher attendance rates
- Had fewer discipline referrals
- Were rated higher by their teachers in terms of behaviors, social interactions, and emotional maturity.
The list of studies showing the importance of early childhood education goes on virtually forever. In addition to the educational advantages students with high-quality early education see, they also often find more pleasure in learning. When parents and teachers instill a love of learning early on, children are more likely to continue to love learning as they go through school.
The better foundation they have from an early age, the more likely students are to find success and not get frustrated. When students struggle due to poor early childhood education, the more likely they are to give up. A solid foundation is protective against falling behind, which is imperative, because once students begin to fall behind, it becomes very hard to catch back up.
In addition to the obvious benefits to each child, multiple studies have also shown that early childhood education programs provide an economic benefit to society as well.
In an article from the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, the authors Arthur J. Rolnick and Rob Grunewald write, “Investment in human capital breeds economic success not only for those being educated, but also for the overall economy.” Later, they add:
“The quality of life for a child and the contributions the child makes to society as an adult can be traced back to the first few years of life. From birth until about 5 years old a child undergoes tremendous growth and change. If this period of life includes support for growth in cognition, language, motor skills, adaptive skills and social-emotional functioning, the child is more likely to succeed in school and later contribute to society.”
Early education also teaches kids how to be students. While it’s true that students shouldn’t be stuck in a desk all day and that they do some of their best learning out in the real world, the reality is that much of our formal education takes place inside a classroom. Early childhood education teaches kids how to learn and how to conduct themselves in a classroom.
Why is Bilingual Education Important
Bilingual education is a necessity for some students who speak a language at home that is different from the language spoken at their school. Although it can be a challenge, it turns out these students are at an advantage compared to their peers, and voluntary bilingual education prepares students to enter a global workforce.
According to an article from NPR, people who are bilingual are better at switching from one task to another, potentially due to their learned ability to switch from one language to the other. It seems their brains become wired to be better at these types of tasks that make up executive function, or “the mental processes that enable us to plan, focus attention, remember instructions, and juggle multiple tasks successfully.” (Harvard)
Understanding a second language often makes it easier to understand your first language as well. In the same NPR article, the author writes about students enrolled in a bilingual education program who showed better performance in reading English than students enrolled in an English-only program. Jennifer Steele, who observed these students, said “Because the effects are found in reading, not in math or science where there were few differences, she suggests that learning two languages makes students more aware of how language works in general, aka ‘metalinguistic awareness.’”
I personally experienced this benefit when I was in school. Although I am by no means bilingual, I took a second language, French, in middle school and high school, and I often found that the words I knew in French helped me understand and decipher new words in English. I also better understood the complexities of English grammar and verb forms after learning about them in a second language.
Another obvious benefit of bilingual education is increased opportunities in the workforce. An article for the Chicago Tribune reports that there has been increasing demand for bilingual education starting at an early age, partially due to the demand for bilingual employees. Specifically, the article notes that the following industries look for people who speak more than one language: health care, education, customer service, government, finance, information technology, social services, and law enforcement.
Why is Physical Education Important
A good physical education program can set a child up for a lifetime of healthy habits. When I was in elementary school, I can remember asking what the point of gym class was. By the time I was in high school though, I realized that gym class was one of the most important classes I had ever taken.
In my senior year, I took a strength and conditioning class, and it set me up for a lifetime of treating my body well through exercise and proper nutrition. Without that class, I would have been lost the first time I stepped into a gym on my college campus.
Physical education isn’t just important for older children; even at the preschool level, it’s an essential part of the school day. Spend time around any young child, and you’ll realize that they can’t sit still for long. With so much energy and excitement for exploring the world, they need to keep their bodies moving. One study in the Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health found that physical education increased both total physical activity and moderate-to-vigorous physical activity in preschool children.
An article for Livestrong.com also highlighted the importance of gym class because it increases the amount of physical exercise children get, it increases coordination and flexibility, it produces endorphins that elevate kids’ mood, and it provides important opportunities for kids to socialize with each other.
In addition to teaching kids lifelong skills about moving their bodies, gym class benefits the whole child; in a book titled Educating the Student Body, researchers found “a direct correlation between regular participation in physical activity and health in school-age children, suggesting that physical activity provides important benefits directly to the individual child.” Specifically, they found that physical education is associated with academic benefits, better social and emotional well-being, and that it might even be protective against heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Why is arts and music education important
In a world where education budgets are continually being slashed, arts and music education are tragically often the first to go. For many students, the arts are what gets them to school each day, and without these classes as a creative outlet to look forward to, school can be a major struggle. These classes are a refuge for many students, especially those who don’t excel in a traditional classroom environment.
In addition to being a safe and happy place for students to go during the day, the arts have many other benefits. A study called “SAT Scores of Students Who Study the Arts: What We Can and Cannot Conclude about the Association” for the Journal of Aesthetic Education found that students who take arts courses in high school (including music, theatre, etc.) tend to have higher SAT scores. While standardized test scores aren’t everything, this connection certainly does suggest the arts play an integral part in overall student success.
The Brookings Institution, a nonprofit public policy organization, also found connections between arts education and student success. They conducted a randomized controlled trial to investigate the effect of arts education on students, and found students with more education in the arts had better academic, social, and emotional outcomes than the students with less access to the arts.
In addition to measurable changes like a decrease in disciplinary infractions and an increase in writing scores, they also found that “students who received more arts education experiences are more interested in how other people feel and more likely to want to help people who are treated badly.” In elementary students specifically, they found “increases in arts learning positively and significantly affect students’ school engagement, college aspirations, and their inclinations to draw upon works of art as a means for empathizing with others.”
Why is STEM education important
If you’ve heard anything about education in the last ten years or so, you’ve undoubtedly heard about the push for STEM education, which stands for science, technology, engineering, and math. Schools everywhere seem to be offering more STEM courses, and for good reason.
In a study of pre-service and novice elementary school teachers, 100% agreed that STEM education is important, citing reasons such as:
- Providing a foundation for later academics
- Making connections to everyday life
- Preparing students for jobs
- Promoting higher order thinking
The U.S. Department of Education also offers compelling reasons why STEM education is important:
“In an ever-changing, increasingly complex world, it’s more important than ever that our nation’s youth are prepared to bring knowledge and skills to solve problems, make sense of information, and know how to gather and evaluate evidence to make decisions. These are the kinds of skills that students develop in science, technology, engineering and math—disciplines collectively known as STEM. If we want a nation where our future leaders, neighbors, and workers have the ability to understand and solve some of the complex challenges of today and tomorrow, and to meet the demands of the dynamic and evolving workforce, building students’ skills, content knowledge, and fluency in STEM fields is essential.”
If that weren’t enough to convince you, the Smithsonian Science Education Center echoes a similar sentiment,
We must all recognize that we live in an era of constant scientific discovery and technological change, which directly affects our lives and requires our input as citizens. And we must recognize that as our economy increasingly depends on these revolutionary new advances, many new jobs will be created in STEM fields. If we are to stay competitive as a nation, then we need to build a scientifically literate citizenry and a bank of highly skilled, STEM-literate employees.
Education students in STEM subjects gives them the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in our digital world that changes by the day. Students learn skills they’ll use to take on jobs that don’t even exist yet.
Why is College Education Important
The importance of college education is sometimes called into question for many reasons. According to CNBC, more than one in five college graduates work in jobs that don’t require a degree. Statistics like this make people wonder if it’s worth spending years of their lives going into debt only to land a job they could have gotten without a degree.
While there are of course cases where people don’t use their college degree, the research still suggests that overall, earning a college degree is beneficial. A paper titled “Do the Benefits of College Still Outweigh the Costs?” revealed that the benefits do, in fact, outweigh the costs. The authors of the academic paper found the following:
“An analysis of the economic returns to college since the 1970s demonstrates that the benefits of both a bachelor’s degree and an associate’s degree still tend to outweigh the costs, with both degrees earning a return of about 15 percent over the past decade. The return has remained high in spite of rising tuition and falling earnings because the wages of those without a college degree have also been falling, keeping the college wage premium near an all-time high while reducing the opportunity cost of going to school.”
There is also no denying that a large majority of very important jobs require higher education. Everybody would agree they wouldn’t want their surgeon or their child’s teacher to walk onto the job straight out of high school.
The college experience shouldn’t be downplayed, either. Whether it’s to have that buffer zone between being a kid and an adult or to have time to study abroad and have shared experiences before entering the “real world,” many people who have gone to college say the college experience is one of the many things that makes college worthwhile.
A report titled “It’s Not Just the Money: The Benefits of College Education to Individuals and to Society” from the University of Maine echoes this sentiment, noting that the monetary benefit of college is often the most cited because it’s objective and easy to measure. Subjective benefits like the college experience are hard to study because they can mean different things to different people. The report cites a multitude of benefits college graduates see, including higher likelihood of having health insurance, higher likelihood of having a retirement plan, higher likelihood of good health, lower likelihood of being in prison or jail, higher voting turnout, higher self-reportings of happiness, and higher community involvement. Many of these statistics are the result of correlations, meaning there is a connection between college and the benefits, but that doesn’t mean that attending college causes these benefits. Nonetheless, there is no denying that college can and does have a positive impact on many people.
Suffice it to say that education matters. Studies have shown that those who are more educated are more likely to live longer, live healthier lives, and are even more likely to help strangers. Investing in various types of education from the time children are young ensures that they have a strong foundation and that the whole person is being educated. The more diverse and well-rounded we can make education for children, the better educated they’ll be.