Too much, too early

Sunday June 17, 2012

http://thestar.com.my/education/story.asp?file=/2012/6/17/education/11465249&sec=education

I REFER to the Education Ministry’s proposal to lower the formal school-entry age (“
Five plus formal schooling plan”, The Star, June 5) and totally agree with Rueben Dudley’s response (“
Education not a race to be won”, The Star, June 8).

First of all, we need to remember that a child’s early years are important for holistic development – physical, social and emotional.

As it is, many of our existing preschool programmes can be classified as “very formal” with much stress placed on academics; what more if the formal school age is lowered to age five.

Many parents and preschools will soon begin to push for academic readiness from between birth and age three. There will be serious implications and repercussions for our children.

I believe that the rise in social ills and suicide attempts among the young have to do with our children being pushed too much, too early.

To all the parents and the preschools that put so much emphasis on academic learning, I ask: Have children responded positively to this approach?

What do our children really want?

If they can speak for themselves, I am sure they would want more opportunities for play, space and time, and to be able to thoroughly enjoy the learning process. They would want us to help them see the world the way they see and sense it.

We need to look at the whole system very seriously.

The existing setting of pre-school classrooms with tables and chairs is a very clear indication and plan for formal learning to take place.

A formal curriculum is offered where most of the time children are taught through rote and drill. This is done in the name of preparation for Year One.

Much of the learning is very structured, leaving little room for interaction to take place.

Early childhood education programmes need to look beyond preparing children to enter school.

They lay the foundation for life-long learning, including the skills children need to acquire in their early years, such as cognitive skills, social skills, and emotional skills.

For example, waiting their turn, making friends, negotiating and playing together are important social skills that children ought to learn in pre-school.

Children’s minds must be engaged as they are keen learners. In the true realm of early childhood learning, their innate curiosity to explore, test, investigate and ask questions is satisfied. Yet many of our existing pre-school classrooms are devoid of this.

The typical rote and drill method of teaching that has to do with pages of worksheets and workbooks on a daily basis is truly an insult to our children’s cognitive abilities.

Children need to learn to think, reason, perceive, analyse, recall, connect, construct, create and draw conclusions. Those worksheets and workbooks, sorry to say, do not engage the mind of the child and do not involve them in the cognitive processes.

Children are active learners and learn best by participating, by moving, by doing, and by touching and handling tangible things. And as they gain mastery of their physical skills they gain more confidence to express themselves.

Children also need secure relationships with caring adults who nurture them in every way.

It has been said that the plan to lower the age for starting schooling took into account the fact that children today are more mature. What does that mean?

Yes, children today are better exposed and appear to be more knowledgeable but are they ready for many of the expectations required in a formal setting?

The nature of their development, their beginner’s skills, how they acquire those skills, and the way they learn must be at the core of our early childhood programmes.

We should also keep abreast with child development theories on how children learn and how teachers should teach.

Let there be classrooms that come alive for children to experience learning in meaningful ways.

In doing so, we allow our children to be children and let them develop at their own pace and enjoy the process of learning.

Childhood is not a race but a journey in life. – Unknown

PUSPA SIVAN
EARLY CHILDHOOD SPECIALIST