The report examines conditions for mothers in 164 countries because “the quality of children’s lives depends on the health, security, and well-being of their mothers.” Each country is rated according to these factors: lifetime risk of maternal death, percent of women using modern contraception, female life expectancy at birth, number of years of formal female schooling, maternity leave benefits, ratio of female to male earned income, participation of women in national government, under-5 mortality rate, gross pre-primary enrollment ratio, gross secondary enrollment ratio.
Norway and Australia top the list, and Afghanistan and Niger are on the bottom. The U.S. is ranked 31st, just after Poland and Slovakia. The report explains why:
- The United States’ rate for maternal mortality is 1 in 2,100 – the highest of any industrialized nation. A woman in the U.S. is more than 7 times as likely as a woman in Italy or Ireland to die from pregnancy-related causes, and her risk of maternal death is 15 times that of a woman in Greece.
- The U.S. under-5 mortality rate is ranked 40th at 8 per 1,000 births. An American child is more than twice as likely as a child in Finland, Greece, Iceland, Japan, Luxembourg, Norway, Slovenia, Singapore or Sweden to die before reaching age 5.
- Only 58 percent of children in the United States are enrolled in preschool – making it the fifth lowest country in the developed world on this indicator.
- The United States has the least generous maternity leave policy – both in terms of duration and percent of wages paid – of any wealthy nation.
- Only 17 percent of congressional seats in the U.S. are held by women, compared to 45 percent in Sweden and 43 percent in Iceland.
All of those statistics are disappointing, but as developers of curriculum, we zeroed in on the fact that only 58% of our children go to preschool.
We know early-childhood care and education helps children grow into healthy, successful adults, in addition to offering much-needed support to working parents. Preschool teaches children how to achieve goals in a structured environment, but it also teaches them how to interact with others. Preschool is where kids get their first in-depth experience of the outside world and its joys and challenges. They learn trustworthiness and fairness by learning how to share with others. They learn responsibility and good citizenship by learning how to clean up after themselves. They learn caring and respect by building friendships with their peers.
S0 why are we making early-childhood education harder to get instead of easier? Business Week reports that state funding of preschool fell by nearly $30 million last year. Meanwhile, the House of Representatives has proposed to cut $1.1 billion from early-childhood education. According to The Beacon News, the cuts will eliminate early-childhood services for 218,000 children and force 16,000 Head Start and Early Head Start classrooms to shut down.
No matter what the deficit clock says, these cuts are wrong. The success of our country depends on the success of our children, and we need to work harder to give all children access to early-childhood education.
* If you want some help teaching good character to your preschoolers, download these handouts:
Download the State of the World’s Mothers report here.