Gains from child-centred Early Childhood Education: Evidence from a Dutch pilot programme

Robert Bauchmüller


Early Childhood Education (ECE) programmes are presumed to have positive effects in particular for children who are at risk of failing during their school careers. However, there is disagreement on whether such programmes should be more teacher and curriculum based or rather centred on the individual child. In this paper I study child-centred ECE programmes that are used at preschools in the Dutch province of Limburg, which is in fact mainly a study of 'Speelplezier', a new child-centred programme which has recently been certified as being 'in theory' effective in raising children's school readiness, but which has not yet been evaluated.

I use a rich dataset covering the first three grades at elementary schools in the Southern part of Limburg for the year 2008/09 to evaluate the impact of child-centred ECE versus alternative preschool options. I estimate ordinary least squares effects of attending a preschool applying child-centred ECE onto test scores from the beginning of elementary schooling, under the control of alternative childcare experiences and various child and family related characteristics and re-weighing observations of the studied sample to represent population averages. I argue that access to a preschool kindergarten applying child-centred ECE is to some degree exogenously determined. In a further effort to identify causal effects, I also use propensity score matching and instrumental variable estimation techniques.

I find no evidence of the expected short-term effects on language or on cognitive development who attended a child-centred ECE preschool as compared to preschools applying other or no early education programmes. In order to reach measurable benefits, the child-centred methods and their applications need to be intensified and extended to all disadvantaged groups of children. Yet I find some evidence that children of low educated parents who have been placed in a child-centred ECE preschool tend to have higher language and cognitive outcomes.

Keywords: early childhood education (ECE), child-centred programme, cognitive and language development, school readiness, distance to preschool

JEL: I21, J13, J24