Nobel laureate James J Heckman talks highlights value of investing in early childhood

The Times of India
Publication Date: 
Tuesday, 1 April 2014

MUMBAI: The Centre for Civil Society partnered with University of Chicago to host Nobel laureate James Heckman. Professor James J Heckman is the Henry Schultz Distinguished Service professor of Economics at The University of Chicago and an expert in the economics of human development.

Professor Heckman raised extremely interesting points regarding the role of non-cognitive traits like in a child's performance. He talked about his recent research, which focused on human development and life-cycle skill formation, with a special emphasis on the economics of early childhood development. He emphasized the importance of broadening the scope of what constitutes human intelligence and factoring in informal learning and non-cognitive traits and provided the audience important new insights into such areas as education, job-training programs, legislation, social supports and civil rights.

The talk was opened by Luis Miranda, Chairman of the Board of Advisors at Centre for Civil Society and University of Chicago alumnus, who introduced the speaker. The attendees at the talk included Dr. Shreeranjan, Joint Secretary of Ministry of Women and Child Development, Subir Gokarn, Senior Fellow, Brookings India, Anjali Alexander, Chairperson of Mobile Creches and representatives from civil society organisations working in education including UNICEF, World Bank, ASER and CRY and USAID.

While we tend to focus on children's mental development at the kindergarten stage, when they are able to demonstrate their learning and skills, James Heckman pointed out that learning begins immediately at birth. His work with a consortium of economists, developmental psychologists, sociologists, statisticians and neuroscientists has proven that there are great economic gains to be had by investing in early childhood development. To achieve this, we must simultaneously work with children at a much earlier age than we currently do, while also working with parents, guardians and caregivers to educate them about the kind of interactions that will stimulate achievement in the child's life.

Parth J Shah, President of Centre for Civil Society closed the event with a vote of thanks to the speaker and discussed the relevance of his research for initiatives such as the National Independent Schools Alliance, which is looking to improve the quality of education being imparted in budget private schools.

At a time when we are exploring innovations in education and working to change our education system so that the focus puts the student at the centre of the system, his insights into childhood development and the best stage for intervention are extremely significant and can feed into our education policy so that we may create the best system for our future generations.

Read the story in The Times of India.