Not so long ago, the Minister of Education announced a change in national education policy regarding the lowering of the age requirement for the entry of children into nursery schools. The move was the ministry’s response to requests to that effect from “numerous parents.” I am convinced that while the Minister’s intentions in this case were probably good, the decision was, I’m afraid, sadly misguided.
Parents want the best for their children and every parent should be actively involved in the educational process. But the reality is, most parents are not professional educators and decisions such as these should be influenced primarily by research and current best practices, not by parents.
There is a robust body of tested research which shows that superior learning throughout the lifespan is achieved when children are exposed to learning through physical and social play up to age 7 as opposed to an instructional approach to learning. Further, early introduction to formal approaches to learning does not in the long term improve literacy and could in fact, be damaging. Children who start school at or before age 5 demonstrate less positive attitudes to reading and poorer comprehension skills than those who begin at age 7. As if this were not bad enough, children who are forced into a learning environment at a tender age demonstrated higher indicators of stress and mental illness in childhood and later in life. Our current nursery school curriculum emphasizes formal instruction at the expense of informal play.
My point is that while lowering the nursery age will undoubtedly pacify numerous parents and allow larger numbers of children to enter schools, it actually does very little good for our children and our country in the long run.
But there is good news! If children (at 3 years, 2 months) could instead be enrolled in professionally staffed, play-based learning centres, they will develop superior, intellectual and emotional skills over the lifespan. Parents will still be pleased because then, mothers will be able to return to work and not have to pay exorbitant day-care fees. The Minister could then have the best of both worlds!
Implementation of such a policy would take greater effort, financial resources and time. It will undoubtedly require the retraining of caregivers and the retooling of nursery schools, but the returns with respect to our country’s greatest resource, our children, will be more than worth it. After all, national development is our ultimate goal, isn’t it?
Wil A Campbell