Education not a race to be won

Friday June 8, 2012

http://thestar.com.my/news/story.asp?file=/2012/6/8/focus/11438144&sec=focus

THE proposal by the Education Ministry to lower the formal school-entry age (“Five plus formal schooling plan” – The Star, June 5), deserves to be given serious thought and should be looked at in considerable detail from every angle.

While the intention is for children to start formal schooling at five plus, rather than six plus, we need to consider starting school as an important and integral part of being educated, a journey that needs special preparation, care and a wonderful time where each child can make the most of the opportunities.

It is the quality of that journey that is as, or perhaps even more, important than pushing the age or duration boundaries one way or another.

An education, from its very beginning, is about the “whole” child, and part of the whole child is that of being a young child who requires time to develop, play, create, wonder and enjoy in a relatively stress free environment in the early years of life.

Unfortunately, today’s system of education, right from the first year in school, is a stressful experience with demands on the child from all quarters to outperform everyone else.

Besides schooling, tuition and in many cases extra classes to hone academic abilities and develop other skills outside of school add to the child’s trauma.

In school, there is a crowded and top down curriculum and pedagogical approach, in many ways a complex learning experience for the child, and which can be emotionally, physically and mentally demanding even for the most ready child.

It is equally essential to consider the child’s real maturity level, not only gained at preschool, but as an important element of coping skills, adapting to new situations and the basic abilities to function, think, speak, emote and control oneself that are largely influenced by the environment, culture and family.

These take time and cannot be rushed or superimposed. Care and nurturing in a trusting environment are crucial and an extra year, before entering a formal learning environment, can make a significant difference.

Across the world, primary education for children vary. In nearly two-thirds of all countries, children are expected to enter primary school when they are six years old.

In a further third of countries, the entrance age is as low as five or high as seven years. Two countries have significantly different primary school entrance ages, Ireland with four years and Mongolia with eight years.

Before embarking on reforms, in particular those that can have a lasting effect on the growing child, a broad-ranged feedback must be obtained, if not already, from a cross-section of parents, teachers, educators, community-leaders, experts, administrators, and policy makers.

Decisions should be based on providing children with the time to mature, enjoy their childhood, experience the “wonders” around them and have the benefits of fun and play before they start school. These make children happy and develop a sense of self worth, respect and values in life.

Life and education is not a race to be won, but a journey of discovery, mastery, exploration and fulfilment. Let’s ensure it starts with a strong foundation and an unhurried and more patient world that allows our children the space to wait, to think and to prepare with time.

RUEBEN DUDLEY,

Petaling Jaya.