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Preschool Matters Today

A Glimpse into France’s Ecole Maternelle


July 7, 2010

The overwhelming majority of early childhood education in France takes place in public preschools such as the well-known ecole maternelle. These programs must meet national standards and are sufficiently subsidized by the government to enable children from middle class families to attend at little or no cost. Not surprisingly, enrollment of French children in the ecole maternelle is near universal at age 3.

That’s not the case in the U.S. where the majority of preschool-age children attend some kind of program at age 4, only about half at age 3, and many private and public programs are of questionable quality. This week, National Public Radio’s Paris-based Eleanor Beardsley dropped in on an ecole maternelle where her son Maxim is enrolled. The broadcast includes perspectives from other parents whose children attend, and commentary by NIEER co-director Steve Barnett who draws the contrast between what’s available to the parents of French preschoolers and their counterparts in the U.S. Barnett recently returned from an Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development conference on early childhood issues in Paris and reports that as in the U.S., early childhood programs in much of the rest of the world exist under the threat of the budget knife that could cut preschool quality globally. Citizens everywhere must be concerned about the tendency for governments to sacrifice quality rather than quantity when budgets are tightened.

Listen to the NPR broadcast about early childhood education in France.