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Pencils Down: Why childcare must be made more affordable

First-year+student+Gabe+Hendershot+writes+about+the+importance+of+making+childcare+more+financially+accessible.+
Aminatta Imrana Jallow
First-year student Gabe Hendershot writes about the importance of making childcare more financially accessible.

The cost of education is a frequently discussed topic and rightfully so. When it comes to higher education, many students and their families become saddled with debt within the first couple years of an undergraduate degree. It is disheartening that so many students are discouraged from expanding their life and knowledge base because of their economic status. In the U.S., this problem begins before our children are even out of diapers. Childcare and preschool costs are becoming so unreasonably high that parents are running out of options.

 The problem begins with a lack of maternity and paternity leave for expecting parents. Many parents don’t take extra time off to care for their babies, fearing they might lose their jobs as a result. The United States provides no national paid leave for expecting parents, one of only six countries in the world that does not. Even with a year’s paid maternity leave — something extremely uncommon in the U.S. — there is still a gap. Between the ages of one and five, the latter being when a child can enroll in public kindergarten, there is no designated childcare.

 The environment that children are in during this time is important for many reasons. The first is simple: safety. Parents should know that while they are at work, their children are well cared for and unquestionably safe. Approaching this issue from an education standpoint, however, illuminates another key aspect. When a child is ages one to five, they undergo an incredible amount of development, both physically and mentally. This is a crucial time for children to build an understanding of how to learn and interact with both teachers and peers.

 Setting expectations at a young age for how children should behave and participate in a classroom environment has a significant impact on their entire learning career. Learning how to listen, follow directions and take turns are skills that will be useful all the way into adulthood. While these can be taught at home, they are especially useful when learned within the classroom environment and in tandem with a students’ peers. As the curriculum becomes more complex and rigid in later years, students who have not worked on these skills will pose a serious threat to both their own learning and that of their peers. At both a high school and collegiate level, an instructor’s main focus should be to teach the curriculum to their students. When said students have a shaky foundation for classroom etiquette and learning techniques, a teacher’s attention is diverted to solving these problems rather than focusing on the curriculum. This wastes an instructor’s time and detracts from the learning opportunities of other students.

 When factoring in that many parents do not have family members or friends who can care for their children before they are school age, the need for accessible childcare becomes evident. The problem is that this childcare has become astronomically expensive. In New York state, the average yearly cost for childcare is $17,040 for children ages three to five and $18,240 for children under two. This is comparable to the cost of in-state college tuition. While some may argue that an undergraduate degree is unnecessary, it is almost impossible to make the same argument for childcare.

 Looking at those numbers, it becomes clear why parents are struggling to afford childcare. There are many families who have decided that one parent will put a complete pause on their career until their children are old enough to attend school. This time, of course, increases with the number of children a family plans on having. Childcare can account for as much as 50% of a parent’s yearly salary. Though staying at home with your children should absolutely be an option for any parent that desires it, it shouldn’t be the only way that a family can make ends meet.

 Bringing down the cost of childcare, possibly even creating a universal form of it, should be a top priority in the U.S.. Without this resource, many children struggle throughout their education because they were not provided a solid foundation for learning and socializing. Teachers are also greatly affected as they try to make up for lost time later on. The U.S. should care about the children that grow up here and should do its best to set them up for success. This support needs to start when children are born, not when they are halfway through the education system.

PENCILS DOWN is a column written by first-year film, photography and visual art major Gabe Hendershot that discusses education. Contact him at [email protected].

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Aminatta Imrana Jallow, Photographer
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