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Why school can wait

Ranez.Ru > Помощь в учебе абитуриентам и студентам > Студенту > Английский язык > Topics advanced (ПУПР) >

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The starting age
should be raised, says
Catherine Lockwood

Many children in Britain are barely out of nappies before they are expected to start learning their letters. As schooldays approach, parents feel they have to drill their children in the alphabet to get them off to a good start.

Then the youngsters, some only just past their fourth birthday, are packed off to the classroom, years before their contemporaries on the Continent.

While British four and five-year-olds are trying to master the skills of reading and writing, their German contemporaries are still in kindergarten. No attempt is made to teach them to read or write until they start school at six or seven. Yet by nine, most German children are as competent as British youngsters.

So are there benefits in sending British children to school at such an early age? It seems not; there is a lot of evidence that pushing very young children into formal lessons harms their development. Many will simply not be ready to learn to read and write, and the sense of failure could deter them from learning for life.

If politicians and educationists really want to improve educational standards, Britain needs to raise the age at which formal teaching begins. Why then is the Government intent on doing the reverse? Earlier this year, it proudly announced, as described in a newspaper headline, "Lessons in the 3 Rs will start at age three". And ever more emphasis is being placed on the standard assessment tests at seven, putting more pressure on the youngest pupils to achieve academic goals.

The Government has since tempered its early learning plans, and rightly so. Why would any parent of a normal three-year-old want him or her attempting to master the 3 Rs? Most children are ready to learn to read at about the age of six, according to the respected 1967 Plowden Report. Once ready, they quickly acquire the skills required. A child who is not "reading-ready" will battle for months or even years to achieve the same level.

The time has come to stop sending four and five-year-olds to school, long before they are ready. The starting age should be raised by one year, if not two. British children have years of formal education ahead of them: we need to give them more time, before they start, to explore the world at their own pace. Children are learning all the time, from everything around them. At the ages of four and five, life is tremendously exciting. The promise of a simple visit to the park can evoke whoops of delight from my elder son, who is four. For him, every bike ride is an adventure.

Children of this age want nothing more than to expand their knowledge of the world. They are always exploring and inquiring, and, as a result, demand an enormous amount of attention. The flow of questions is, never-ending; the capacity for absorbing 'the answers is astounding.

Yet at just this point they are sent off to school, where they cannot possibly command the attention they crave. What they learn is dictated by the national curriculum, and they are expected to conform as never before. Clearly, if a teacher is to control a class of 30, he or she has to expect obedience; but many children of four and five are simply unable to sit and concentrate for any length of time. When they start to fidget, they are not being naughty, they are simnatural exuberance as a trait to be curbed and suppressed, we should let it run its course. As schools on the Continent know, by the ages of six and seven, most children are more ready to settle into school, their ability to concentrate is greatly improved and they are able to master rapidly the skills of reading and writing. Many British children endure several frustrating terms at school, struggling to gain these abilities before they are ready.

And who knows how many children never recover from the resulting sense of failure — a consequence of having been pushed to achieve too much too young?

CHRIS WOO

 


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