"Looking Backward: How Childhood Experiences Impact a Nation's Wealth", Dan Trefler -- Rotman School -- Lifelong Learning, May 30, 2003, 8:30 a.m.
Dan Trefler, J. Douglas and Ruth Grant Chair in
Competitiveness and Prosperity and Professor of Business Economics, , Rotman
School of Management, U. of Toronto; and Research Fellow, Canadian Institute for Advanced Research
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Introduction by Roger Martin
Dan is Toronto boy, U. of Toronto, Cambridge, UCLA
1984-1994 taught at U. of Toronto, then went to
Chicago, back to U. of T. in 1997
Also at the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research
Research fellow, policy analysis, U. of Toronto
Research fellow, U. of Chicago
Lifelong learning people are special
Why should an audience member miss a day away from work (or golf) to hear about an early
How does this relate to capital?
If you're not a socialist when you're young, you have have not heart; if
you are when you're old, you have no brain.
Would like Toronto to be success and Canada to be successful.
Research: there is no silver bullet.
Have to think of a set of policies.
Need policies that complement each other -- a good fit,
enhance each other.
Early children's agenda is one of these, that complements others.
Convince you of three things:
Not a soft thing, research from physiologists.
Early children's inventions are cost effective.
They should interface with other government policies
How the early children's agenda feeds into things we
care about, e.g. the supply of researchers
Each dot is a country
GDP per capita vs. % of population with
Canada does well because of a large college system --
much larger than others.
How do we boost postgraduate?
Standard view driven by this picture: plot
Teens from rich families go to university much more
often than the poor.
Reasoning then says need to subsidize university
Is it possible instead that teens from rich families
have enjoyed stimulating environments, lifelong learning, so that when they go
to university, they're ready for it.
It's not about financial, it could be that we haven't worked on supply of
U.S. study: AFQ (IQ) test at age 12 -- students in
top 1/3 of bright students
These students are bright enough to go to university.
Even for these bright kids, the rich kids tend to go
to university more than poor kids.
Suppose we control for children's background
younger: broken home? parents education?
These two would explain it -- early childhood.
Could use other variables, with similar results.
Could make this same analysis for whether graduating in
high school, for whether in grade 10 you decided to take math courses, down to
early childhood. Same pattern
Early lifestage, that cumulates.
When you're 18, the student is either ready for university or
All of the above seems soft, not enough serious
Serious science means doing an experiment.
This is difficult to do with people, and is
Where do we go?
Animal studies, and cell biology
Brain plasticity: when the brain develops
HPA access: how the stress system develops in the human
Embryo, 2 weeks, a neural tube develops; the 4-1/2 months, neurons
migrate to spine, connecting
When you're born, there are a lot of neurons in place, but they're not
Next five years: process of neural pathway creation and
Every time a synapse it used, a chemical is used; when it's reused, then
the chemical stays there.
If not used, the neuron is killed off
By age 3, you've lost 1/3 of the neurons you were born
Research by cataract surgery, on people with congenital
cataracts, where surgery is ineffective
Experiments with cats: suture one eye shut for 3 months, then unsuture it.
After 3 months, the cat is permanent blind.
This leads to thinking about brain plasticity in life.
Binocular vision is early on, before age 2
10 months: emotional stability
Habitual ways of responding, e.g. pessimistic vs. optimistic children --
after 6 month
Who raised this kid?
Social skills, 3 years
In teens, front lobes still developing
Even in old age, stroke recovery
Most of development happens before age 6.
Instead of remediation after age 6, should work on it before age
This is economics.
HPA access: the stress system
The more I read about this, the less I understand.
e.g. fighting a tiger
Hypocampus secretes CRH, signal pituatary to kick out PCH, then adrenal
gland creates cortisone and cortisol
Stress, then will freeze for 10 seconds
Cortisol kicks in, sends sugar, tells immune system that trauma is
coming, sends white blood cells
Cortisol eats up the body, not good long-term survival strategy, turns
Cortisol is picked up by hypocampus -- long term memory system -- travels
back to hypothalamus to stop secreting CRH, cortisol
Self-regulating system, could be flawed
Spiking too early, spiking too high, or bringing cortisol to too low a
Too low: arthritis or lups
Too high: depression
This reseach by Canadian reseach at McGill in the 1930s
Recently have discovered that the cortisol system can be
Training early in the life course
(spelling?) working with rats:
Handled baby rats 15 minutes per morning, then at age of 6 months,
stress out rats and see how their stress system is influenced by early
Throw rats into pool of water to sink or swim.
They need to find a submerged platform
At 6 months, both handled and unhandled rats take 5 meters
By age 2, non-handled rates swam a lot longer -- 16 meters
When you dissect the rats:
Find the hormone receptors are much greater in handled
Natural experiment: state collapse in Romania by Ceaucescu,
influx into orphanage system as they're not funded
The only attention a baby gets when its screams is
negative attention by caregivers.
Canadians adopted a lot of these orphans, some before
age 6 months, much aged later
Was early deprivation important?
IQ test: late kids 85, early kids 110
At level 85, communcation, socialization and motor
skills lower -- these could be co-workers
See web site for childrens of adult orphans: lots of
These people have inappropriate cortisol spikes --
alcoholism, depressions, aggressive
Same research: a bad day care.
One last example in science, on aggression:
Extreme aggression is genetic, related to seratonin
Steve Sumi at NIH in Maryland
Rhesus macacs colony, studied for 23 years,
grandparents, children, etc. x x
Breeded some who were very aggressive, then put
them with "good parents"
Result was positive -- monkeys normal
Still the serotonin levels are normal, because of nuturing.
Can do a lot with children, it costs a lot later
Now returning to the economic view:
How effective are learning interventions in the life
Will focus just on one.
Want to think about policies that make Toronto a rich
society to be in, and Canada
Want to be rich, and caring.
Policies need to work together.
A policy that doesn't fit together won't make the
Early childhood fits into a lot of policies.
Innovation agenda: may not be doing the right
thing at the university level
Need to create a supply of students
Who do you want as office mates?
Tend to focus on it as one big infrastructure project, e.g. rail link,
Missing the single most important asset: people
If you want develop to have a superior asset, should invest in people,
and the cheapest way to do this is invest early.
How to get early childhood agenda into immigration?
Immigration is a federal agenda
Quality of life agenda:
Early childhood education has a huge impact on crime rates
International trade agenda:
Free trade is important to a country, but there's globalization effects,
with low wage
Trade adjustment assistance for these countries are failures.
Do we can free trade, because we can't find
policies to help these people?
Take a long view: if you don't want adverse consequences from
globalization, don't want workers in those industries, then should think about
early childhood education
Would like more affluence, showing a caring
Early childhood agenda touches on the other agendas
Not a panacea, but it helps
Book: Myth of the first five years. A lot of
people in the U.S. galvanizing in the U.S., but criticisms: no hard
science which you've covered. But no instructions for parents.
Underlying science isn't easy
Don't see dissent in the scientific community on this agenda (although
some at a lower level).
See press with Naomi Klein that says we need to abandon free trade, but
Instructions for parents
We can intervene a lot in people's lives: legally, children K-12,
parents not in the classroom.
For very young kids, we say that this is the preserve of parents, and
no right to intervene.
Tying one hand behind the back, at the policy level
Some restriction on what can be done
Every few months, more research. e.g. daycare issues, need to
Toronto School District Board, extraordinary results. [Will look
Are there countries doing things like this?
Can see trends, e.g. as Japan ages, going through
We think immigration will keep Canada moving
We forget the demogrphic crunch is happening in all other OECD
Japan is already there.
Europe and U.S. will encourage more immigration, so we need to think about
more home-grown solutions.
Singapore has focused on cognitive skills
Last few years, Singapore is worred about creative
and imagine skills are in business, and are refocusing their education
Even a country that thinks it's getting it right, is getting second
[Looking for slide on Toronto District School Board]
Readiness to learn program
Age 4, community-based rich environment
When you look into the school system, what makes the education hard is a
few bad apples.
A few kids who are behavioural problems will bring down the
Research into 1/3 of students who are really doing poorly.
How well are these students doing in two aspects, when they enter
Teacher assessments and psychometric studies show same
Non-congitive and cognitive 28% better
Peri-preschool program is $8 per $1 invested.
Costs about $10,000 per child
Before the talent gets too expensive, where could we go?
Out of depth.
Alberta may be buying into this.
Have to ask Mr. Klein about why he thinks early childhood education
Where could business play a role?
Came to the Rotman School, because believes that there's a number of
public policy decisions.
If you're not part of the business community, it's hard to make a voice
with policy makers.
Since coming here, the phone has been ringing off the hook.
The business community gets heard in Ottawa.
Seattle and WTO incidents were because business community didn't get
Any evidence of improved productivity, of policies that
could be improved in the workplace, on stress balancing work / life, daycare
possibility, programs for women
Sound like I should ask you that question.
Still early in research, have focused more on international
The answer is: I enjoyed your question. You may be pointing
at some areas I should look at.
Trying to create larger pools of talent. Referring
to Roger Martin's talk, how much do we want to do this? Will people go
elsewhere where there's no talent?
Almost a no-brainer.
In 1970s, ascendency of Japan.
We don't think about Japan as a talent place.
U.S. has been the powerhouse of innovation since the 1980s
Don't want to think about too much talent in a geographic
People with talent will hire people with talent.
Person at the apex gets a large reward.
Research into compensation: superstars that can draw on
This has caused high income disparity in the U.S.
Won't have a problem with too much talent.
Could have head office in Canada, with cores of talent throughout the
Should there not be a similar call to work with our
children? Where do you see the progress in early childhood
invention? Are we better off, or is everyone double income, no time for
Do need to invest in children.
We're not doing well compared to other countries
GDP per-capita spending on pre-school, Canada is
way behind other OECD countries.
Child poverty rates aren't going down over long periods of time.
This is a big indicator of what is happening in the
home. Poor homes, many fewer resources, less stimulation
Federal government is trying to inject some money into the issue, it may
not be done in the right way.
Giving money to poor parents doesn't necessarily
get to the children.
Community-based programs would be better.
Problem: federal government doesn't think it can enter the
provincial arena of early childhood
Example of rats swimming. Does it mean non-handled
rats can swim longer?
Every study I read, I say "but it's not quite
Interesting, but not persuaded.
Need to be persuaded by human physiology, which points the same direction
as other studies
Can point to some directions. Ontario's Promise,
from Mike Harris' government, lists partners with agencies that have
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