EARLY-childhood education and care is attracting a surge of interest in most rich countries.

Increasingly, it is moving out of the home and into institutions, a process experts inelegantly call ''de-familisation''. Across the OECD, average enrollment of three-to-five-years old rose from 75% in 2005 to 85% in 2016.

One reason as already noted, is to make it easier for women to go out to work, which boosts GDP and saves the state money in family support.

JANUARY 2019 : AT Turner Elementary School in south-east Washington, DC, about 15 well-turned-out five-year-olds sit on a mat in an immaculate classroom, bellowing out an uplifting song about gearing ready for school and listening to the teacher.

They then act little scenes about being good citizens sharing and helping others. They are having fun, but of a well controlled sort.

For many of them this may be the calmest the most enjoyable part of their day.

The school is in a poor part of America's capital and almost all the students are eligible for free or subsidised meals, which means their parents may struggle to make ends meet.

The principal Eric Bethel, says the school has made a lot of progress and achieves good academic results. It is teaching its preschool kids to read from age three.

The little children at Turner, and many of the District of Columbia's 114 other public schools, are lucky. In 2017 about nine out of ten four-year-olds there, and seven out of ten three year-olds, were enrolled in publicly funded preschool, the highest rate in America, says Amanda Alexander, the interim chancellor of DC's public-school system.

The schools have no trouble recruiting staff for this age group because, usually, preschool teachers here are paid the same as those for older age groups.

Good preschool education helps get kids from poor families ready for school proper and do better in standard tests, but it is expensive. In 2017, DC spent about $17,000 per child on this item, far and away the most of any American state.

Average preschool spending across America in 2017 was about $5,000, a drop in real terms compared with 2002. Seven states had no programme at all.

So, on Family Support, for example : Britain, some years ago introduced free child care for 15 hours a week, and of 30 hours a week provided the parents work, for all three-and four-year olds, regardless of background.

But a paper by the institute of Fiscal Studies, a think-tank, found that this was likely to have only slight impact on maternal employment. Even 30 hours a week would not be long enough to squeeze in a full-time job.

Kate Greenway Nursery School, run by local authority in Islington, North London, a confidence-inspiring place full of happy, busy children. It is open weekdays from 8am to 6pm, including holidays, so it provides effective cover for working families.

As well as taking three-and-four-year-olds, it offers subsidised places for kids from six months to three years. These cost from pound 125 to pound 300 a week, depending on what parents earn.

The head, Fiona Godfrey, says the places for younger children are in high demand. Good-quality private nurseries can cost even more and offer less.

Child care-costs in Britain as a proportion of average incomes are among the world's highest.

The honor and serving of the latest global operational research and thinking on ''early years'', continues. The World Students Society thanks The Economist.


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