To prevent delinquency and crime, it is better to act… from the age of 3. This is the main teaching of the Perry Preschool Project, a preschool program that has been operating in the state of Michigan, United States, since 1962.
Between the ages of 3 and 5, participants in this program benefit from daily supervision of two and a half hours, provided in groups each comprising one adult counselor for six children.
The philosophy of the program: to make all the members of the group interact intensively in order to develop intellectual capacities and promote socialization. Families are also highly solicited through numerous meetings among themselves and with stakeholders.
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The effects of the Perry Preschool Project were measured through a “controlled experiment” involving 123 African American children from disadvantaged backgrounds with low intelligence quotient. Among the 123 children, 58 benefited from the program – this is the test group – and 65 were assigned to a control group which did not benefit from it.
These 123 children have been followed at regular intervals since the age of 3 and, at the last survey, they were all around 55 years old. The benefits of the program are evaluated by comparing the fate of people in the test group to that of the control group. This controlled experiment thus makes it possible to assess the effects of a very early educational intervention on practically the whole of a life.
The most spectacular results relate to delinquency and criminality. The graph shows that 23% of men in the control group who have reached the age of 50 have been convicted at least twice for violent offenses, while they are only 3% in this case in the test group ( the respective percentages are 33% and 7% for crimes).
To these reductions in delinquency and crime, we must add the savings made on the operating costs of justice, the expenses related to imprisonment and other compensation for victims. It was also found that, on average, people in the test group had better wages and were more often employed than their counterparts in the control group.
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But the benefits of the Perry Preschool Project do not only affect the participants, they are also passed on to their children! The latter have a probability of being excluded (temporarily or permanently) from their school which is 30 percentage points lower than that of children whose parents were in the control group.
In addition, they are at least 20 percentage points higher than the members of the control group according to the following criteria: never having been arrested, being employed, having a diploma and having completed at least one year of higher education.
The children of the beneficiaries of the Perry Preschool Project also founded families apparently more stable than those of the children of the control group: two-parent households are three times more frequent among the first than among the second and it is even fifteen times more if we are restricted to the subgroup of male children whose father was among the original 123 participants.
The crucial role of parents
The success of the Perry Preschool Project is due to a few ingredients present in all the devices that have proven to be effective. First of all, this project is narrowly targeted and its budget is high: the annual cost per participant is about three times higher than that of a pupil in a primary school in France. Second, it is based on the family environment. Parents’ participation is one of the keys to success.
Another particularly interesting finding is that children benefiting from the Perry Preschool Project significantly improved their performance on tests assessing non-cognitive abilities, such as motivation and self-discipline. “Intellectual” capacities do not therefore necessarily play a determining role in terms of social integration and professional success.
The evaluation of educational interventions should not only focus on the knowledge acquired, as is often the case, but also on certain dimensions of the personality which are at least as important for integration into society and the labor market. .