Life Style

Should disadvantaged children be stimulated more than others?

The idea is dear to the President of the Republic: inequalities must be reduced at the root, from an early age. This ambition already underpinned the 2018 poverty plan. It is taken up, this Thursday, June 2, by the Institut Montaigne, a liberal think tank, in a report “The future is played out in poor neighborhoods”.

France, write the authors, should “invest massively for education”, with particular attention to the very beginning of school life. They offer to“experimenting, in these neighborhoods, programs of strong cognitive stimulation from an early age, thanks to tight supervision in conjunction with families”.

“Reinforced supervision”

Science would be formal on the benefits of such an approach, according to the authors, who cite two North American programs: Perry Preschool and Carolina Abecederian. The first, “Launched in 1962 in Michigan, involved 58 children aged 3 to 4 from underprivileged backgrounds. They participated in a strong cognitive stimulation program for five years. The program consisted of 2.5 hours of class every morning and 1.5 hours of home visits per week. There was 1 teacher for 6 students,” describes the report.

The second, deployed among mainly African-American families in Carolina between 1972 and 1977, consisted of offering children aged 0 to 5 a “reinforced supervision (1 adult for 3 children) for activities (learning games) six hours a day, five days a week, fifty weeks a year, promoting their cognitive, social and psychomotor development”.

As a result, the life trajectories of these children would have been lastingly improved, according to the Institute, which points out that the same two panels, evaluated forty years later, showed successful integration – “better health, higher income, less crime” – than in other comparable neighborhoods.

Scientific credibility challenged

Should we conclude that over-stimulation is the miracle tool, the one that is lacking in France in general and at school in particular? The institute concedes that not everything should be expected. Many childhood professionals are offended by such an approach, whose scientific credibility they dispute.

The assessments cited by the Institut Montaigne are old and outdated, comments Grégoire Borst (1), professor of developmental psychology: “Today, there is a consensus that measures that are highly targeted on the poorest children produce less good effects than universal policies, because they are often at a discount. This is why a recent report by France Strategy and the National Family Allowance Fund on community childcare did not take up the idea of ​​a policy targeting the most disadvantaged children. »

Little sense

Basically, the programs cited as examples aim above all to ensure the acquisition of a certain number of words, but they would have as little meaning as learning the dictionary by heart. “In young children, there is no learning without the pleasure of entering into a relationship”, emphasizes the child psychiatrist Bernard Golse, very critical of the approaches “falsely scientific”based on quantified objectives, and very fashionable in France today.

“It is the attention paid to the child, the fact that an adult responds to his innate desire to communicate that counts”, adds Maya Gratier (2), professor of developmental psychology. Otherwise, the words remain meaningless. “Alone, strictly cognitive stimulation means nothing, further argues Grégoire Borst. Above all, it is necessary to ensure emotional stability, which is absolutely critical at this age, but also to encourage curiosity, ensure access to culture, etc. »

The good idea, according to him, would be quite different: “School should teach very young children to know their brains. Of course, reading stories to them is important, but if we leave the parents alone to explain to them what it triggers in them, if we don’t train them to put their feelings into words, then we miss the target in part. to reduce inequalities, because not all parents are able to do so. »


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