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[#paragraph1]Preschools--educational programs for children under the age of five--differ significantly from one country to another according to the views that different societies hold regarding the purpose of early childhood education. For instance, in a cross-country comparison of preschools in China, Japan, and the United States, researchers found that parents in the three countries view the purpose of preschools very differently. [#highlight2]Whereas[/highlight2] parents in China tend to see preschools primarily as a way of giving children a good start academically, Japanese parents view them primarily as a way of giving children the opportunity to be members of a group. In the United States, in comparison, parents regard the primary purpose of preschools as making children more independent and self-reliant, although obtaining a good academic start and having group experience are also important.
[#paragraph2]While many programs designed for preschoolers [#highlight3]focus[/highlight3] primarily on social and emotional factors, some are geared mainly toward promoting cognitive gains and preparing preschoolers for the formal instruction they will experience when they start kindergarten. In the United States, the best-known program designed to promote future academic success is Head Start. Established in the 1960s when the United States declared the War on Poverty, the program has served over 13 million children and their families. The program, which stresses parental involvement, was designed to serve the 'whole child', including children's physical health, self-confidence, social responsibility, and social and emotional development.
[#paragraph3]Whether Head Start is seen as successful or not depends on the lens through which one is looking. If, for instance, the program is expected to provide long-term increases in IQ (intelligence quotient) scores, it is a disappointment. Although graduates of Head Start programs tend to show immediate IQ gains, these increases do not last. On the other hand, it is clear that Head Start is meeting its goal of getting preschoolers ready for school. Preschoolers who participate in Head Start are better prepared for future schooling than those who do not. Furthermore, graduates of Head Start programs have better future school grade. Finally, some research suggests that ultimately Head Start graduates show higher academic performance at the end of high school, although the gains are modest.
[#paragraph4]In addition, [#highlight6]results from other types of preschool readiness programs[/highlight6] indicate that those who participate and graduate are less like to repeat grades, and they are more like to complete school than readiness program, for every dollar spent on the program, taxpayers saved seven dollars by the time the graduates reached the age of 27.
[#paragraph5]The most recent [#highlight8]comprehensive[/highlight8] evaluation of early intervention programs suggests that, taken as a group, preschool programs can provide significant benefits, and that government funds invested early in life may ultimately lead to a reduction in future costs. For instance, compared with children who did not participate in early intervention programs, participants in various programs showed gains in emotional or cognitive development, better educational outcomes, increased economic self-sufficiency, reduced levels of criminal activity, and improved health-related behaviors. Of course, not every program produced all these benefits, and not every child benefited to the same extent, Furthermore, some researchers argue that less-expensive programs are just as good as relatively expensive ones, such as Head Start. Still, the results of the evaluation were promising, suggesting that the potential benefits of early intervention can be substantial.
[#paragraph6]Not everyone agrees that programs that [#highlight11]seek[/highlight11] to enhance academic skills during the preschool years are a good thing. [#insert1] In fact, according to [#highlight12]developmental psychologist David Elkind[/highlight12], United States society tends to push children so rapidly that they begin to feel stress and pressure at a young age. [#insert2] Elkind argues that academic success is largely dependent upon factors out of parents' control, such as inherited abilities and a child's rate of maturation. [#insert3] Consequently, children of a particular age cannot be expected to master educational material without taking into account their current level of cognitive development. [#insert4] In short, children require development appropriate educational practice, which is education that is based on both typical development and the unique characteristics of a given child.