Early education in Nordic countries: Can we learn anything?

The comprehensive preschool education plan backed by all Nordic countries is called the New Nordic School.

In his State of the Union address, President Obama called on states to “make high-quality preschool [education] available to every single child in America.”

Nordic countries, built around the welfare-state model, and which score high on international education benchmarking tests, have provided successful preschool education programs for decades—success that has prompted U.S. education leaders to wonder what policies are scalable in the United States.

On Feb. 28, education leaders from Denmark, Sweden, and one of PISA’s top-scoring countries, Finland, met at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., to discuss how their preschool education system works and why they believe that high-quality preschool education keeps their economy going.

The idea that high-quality preschool education will directly influence the economy is partly based on an equation developed by Nobel Prize-winning University of Chicago Economics Professor James Heckman.

The Heckman Equation shows that programs targeted toward the earliest years of child development return dollars to the economy later in life.

The Heckman Equation:

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“Nordic countries also believe in equality,” said keynote speaker Christine Antorini, minister for children and education in Denmark. “It doesn’t matter whether you have a high income or low income. High-quality education, including preschool, is available to everyone.”

(Next page: A closer look at the Nordic preschool education system)

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Meris Stansbury

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