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Parents who share different views should also be accommodated

Sunday June 10, 2012


The Star Says

THE Government is considering ways to implement the lower admission age to primary school of five-plus.

That provision had been included in the Education Ministry’s Interim Strategic Plan 2011-2020. It is well that time is now taken to ponder implementation, as it would affect millions of families nationwide.

The drive to cut the admission age by one year comes from parents eager to push their children, with many already enrolling them in pre-school classes.

However, other parents may also have good reason to stick with the present entrance age. Their wishes ought to be respected also.

They may want more quality time for their children to bond with them and their siblings at home. They may see childhood before school as valuable time, during which home-based teaching and upbringing are preferable to formal schooling.

These parents may also want to avoid undue school-based pressure on their young children. Countries that have allowed this pressure to escalate have seen unhealthy consequences for the children.

In hoping to learn from other countries, Malaysia should not have to repeat their mistakes. Making Malaysian adults more productive and competitive need not entail piling more pressure on five-year-olds.

At some point, Malaysians may have to ask themselves what the core purposes of early childhood education should be.

The trick is to make learning fun for young children, allowing their natural curiosity to develop under proper adult guidance. Children should be encouraged to think for themselves, motivating their individual initiative as self-starters rather than simply depending on others to hand them information.

Placing too many demands on children too early can easily backfire. Instead of cultivating their love of knowledge and learning, children can be put off studies for life.

This is a more delicate matter than many people seem to realise. If a goal is lifelong education, children must not be scared off with well-meaning but short-sighted and overbearing policies.

One alternative is to maintain the existing mandatory age of school entry, while making the curriculum more concise, creative and appealing. Another alternative is to give parents the choice of enrolling their children at six-plus or five-plus.

The Education Act 1996 does not provide for any such flexibility. The different perspectives of parents should be accommodated because they have ultimate responsibility for their children’s welfare.