Make an Investment in Human Capital

“An investment in knowledge,” Benjamin Franklin said, “pays the best interest.” 

In preschool classrooms across the region, our future workforce is in training.

Every day, thousands of children enrolled in quality education and care programs are developing the skills and tools they will need in order to succeed in school, the global workplace, and in life.

Studies have consistently shown that children who become early learners become better learners for life. Kids who experience all the benefits of early education get better grades, stay in school longer, and are more likely to go to college. They grow up to be better educated, more motivated, and more productive adults, which makes them better citizens of our community and better employees for the companies — your companies — that do business here.

The children currently in the care of organizations like Springfield Day Nursery will be the adults best suited to perform the most challenging jobs in years to come.

In conference rooms throughout the business community, public officials, strategists, and those responsible for economic development are talking about young children and early education. Why? Because they know the key to realizing business success and economic prosperity is through an early investment in human capital. The idea of early childhood education as an economic development strategy is gaining momentum as a number of influential business groups and companies, including MassMutual and Verizon, have stepped forward in support of new investments in early childhood education.

As the nature of our economy continues to shift to high-tech and biotech industries, better-educated and more highly skilled employees are needed. Preparing tomorrow’s workforce and positioning Massachusetts for future economic growth requires making substantial improvements in children’s early learning opportunities. If you want an advance look at the people who will comprise tomorrow’s workforce, pay a visit to an early childhood center.

But despite the growing volumes of research, statistics, and speeches on the economic and educational benefits of early childhood education, 6,000 Massachusetts children each day — 1,477 in Springfield — grow up without the preschool experience that will allow them to answer the school bell ready and able to learn.

We know all too well what happens when children enter kindergarten without the skills to learn — skills like listening, following directions, getting along with other children, knowing their letters, writing their names, and taking personal responsibility for their actions in the classroom. We know they fall behind their peers on day one and rarely, if ever, catch up. Imagine being five years old and already experiencing the defeating emotions of failure. And who will be to blame when that child someday joins a gang, grows up unemployable, and lives in poverty?

Right now in our community and across Massachusetts, there is a growing effort to spark and sustain economic development. Topping the list, which includes securing developable land for business, retaining graduates from our regional institutions of higher education, commuter rails, safe neighborhoods, and affordable housing, should be a quality public and private education system that includes preschool and all-day kindergarten.

Springfield’s renaissance does not rest solely in a balanced budget. It lies in the ability of forward-thinking adults who understand there is no future without prudent investments made today. When it comes to securing the workforce that will fuel our community’s health and well-being, quality, affordable, accessible early education and care for Springfield’s children is truly the little engine that could.

To learn about local initiatives supporting early education and care, including the George A. and Irene E. Davis Foundation’s Cherish Every Child and the Early Education for All Campaign, log ontowww.sdn.org

Joan Kagan is president and CEO of Springfield Day Nursery, the region’s largest non-profit provider of early education, care, and parenting support services.