Education systems are made in how they tackle the years where they have the least contact with children. If children don’t have a vocabulary size (the words that they know and understand) of 4,000 by 4 years old, then they are severely disadvantaged for the rest of their education and life. Their expressive vocabulary should be around 1/4 of that, and 5–6 word sentences with increasing variety and complexity should be beginning to form. These prerequisites are critical — they MUST be met for a developed world education system. The inability to meet these requirements is why the US system is so poor, and why the country is a serial underachiever for its young people. Joel Klein wrote in The Atlantic:
The World Economic Forum ranks us 48th in math and science education. On international math tests, the United States is near the bottom of industrialized countries (the 34 members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development), and we’re in the middle in science and reading.
These failures are down in part to the failure of the education system to intervene effectively or at all in America. The anti-bureaucratic culture in the US is such that, especially in remote regions, the government is prevented from helping many young people, and, as such, the government no longer tries. The US is a prime example of issues that can occur during this stage, but many countries fare far better.
In the Fennoscandian nations, the system often provides incredibly intensive support and extensive resources. As soon as a new child is born in Norway, Sweden, or Finland, a so-called “baby box” is issued to the parents with supplies of clothes and bottles, as well as books, paper and pencils. Of course, it is not expected that the child uses the latter three immediately — often it will take 10–14 months before they are even used. But once they are, they help a child to build up reading, writing, and listening skills that are crucial to success in both an academic and a technical capacity in school, and provide a head-start for the children and parents who utilise them the best. However, it does ensure that the state has done all that it can for the children, and, as such, parents and children cannot complain if they fail, and it is almost objectively the parents’ fault.
The Finnish system in particular also provides extensive support for children and their parents, with everything from lessons in parenting, books for the parents themselves, and the usual daycare and nursery provisions that are present in the majority of developed countries.
What we should take from the Norwegian, Finnish, and Swedish systems is that intervention at an early stage is vital to success, and that the support doesn’t have to be too intrusive. All that successful systems do is provide the resources for self-help, so that children born in poor communities aren’t disadvantaged, and, as such, everyone within the system can thrive.