11/22/2011 06:06 EST | Updated 01/22/2012 05:12 EST

Early Childhood Learning Study: Get Kids Into School At Age Two

TORONTO - An early childhood education study is recommending publicly funded preschool education for all Canadian kids beginning at age two.

The report — authored by Margaret McCain, Dr. Fraser Mustard, who died last week, and Kerry McCuaig — is the third in a trio of reports on the state of early childhood learning.

Their study provides the social, economic and scientific rationale for public investment in young children and recommends that all children be entitled to an early education from age two.

The Early Years Study 3 — released Tuesday in Toronto and Montreal — says getting kids into education earlier would benefit the children and the country.

For children, the study says early education results in improved school readiness, graduation levels, future earnings and health.

The economy would benefit because affordable, available child care would allow women to work, shorten their stay out of the labour market following childbirth and permit them to move from part-time to full-time work.

Quebec is a national leader in early childhood policy development according to the study's Early Childhood Education Index, followed by Prince Edward Island, Manitoba and Ontario.

The index ranks about 20 variables covering integrated governance, funding, access, learning environment and accountability.

"We take away the advice that we get from experts like Dr. Mustard and see how we can continually improve our education system," said Ontario Education Minister Laurel Broten.

"Right now, our focus is the rollout of a historic change in terms of kindergarten — four- and five-year-olds in full-time school," Broten said.

Ontario recently introduced full-day kindergarten for those age groups, a move inspired by Mustard's work.

The study said more children are involved in early education than ever before.

However, it noted the split between oversight and delivery still requires too many parents to piece together arrangements to cover their work schedules.

"The results are stressful for children and parents alike, but also negate the wonderful payback that comes from delivering early education in a way that simultaneously supports children's learning and their parents' work," it said.

University of Quebec at Montreal economist Pierre Fortin said the return on investment from early childhood initiatives is enormous.

"In fact, the cost-benefit ratio of this type of investment far outstrips that of investments in primary, secondary or college education," Fortin said.