Whilst on a business trip last year I took the opportunity to stay with some friends of ours who live in London. Their child was 4yrs old at the time and I was quite shocked at breakfast-time to see him all dressed up in full school uniform being taken for a day of “proper” education. It was such a contrast to where Zosia was at the same age, still at playschool, no uniform, quite informal.
Seeing things like this gets you wondering who’s got it right? Is Zosia missing out on a few years of well structured education that will prove to be an essential difference between her and her British counterparts, or is my friend’s child missing out on a few important years of just ‘being a kid’ without the formality of uniforms and geometry?
I can’t say we’ve been exercising any scientific process to determine how Zosia’s education is progressing in these early years but we do keep an eye on it. There have been the regular meetings at school with the teachers, which have given a good foundation of understanding that she’s doing well. More important has been to see her attitude at home evolving, her interest in reading, writing, maths, knowledge generally growing as time goes by and we try to help her to explore those things as and when she appears to be ready to do so. It does seem that the schooling she is getting here is matching her own development quite well. Zosia is therefore getting an education that is almost in tune, perhaps slightly behind, her own natural development, whereas my friend’s child in London appears to be getting a very much state (or parent) led education. (not unexpected for the world’s biggest nanny state!) What I don’t know is how the child is responding to that, nor what the longer term benefits or drawbacks of that will be. I’m sure he’s doing well, but is it natural and does this going against nature give any real benefits in the long run?
I then noticed this UK article in mid October, which really struck a chord with me:
Formal schooling should be delayed until children reach 6, according to the biggest review of primary education for more than 40 years. The Cambridge Primary Review, published today, says that five-year-olds should continue with the play-based curriculum used in nursery schools. Trying to teach literacy and numeracy at such an early age is “counterproductive” and can put children off school, according to the committee that produced the report. Successive governments’ insistence on the earliest possible start to formal schooling went against the grain of international evidence, he said. Children who started school at the age of 6 or 7 often overtook English pupils in tests of reading before the start of secondary education.
The UK government, from what I can tell, has been promoting a policy of pushing kids into formal education two years earlier than in Poland. In Poland the general rule was playschool ages 3-5, age 6 was ‘zerówka’ (zero class or what the Brits call ‘Primary reception class’) and then formal education starts at age 7. This year there has been a slight change with a suggestion that zerówka should be held in formal schools rather than playschools, as Zosia is doing, and I’d agree with that by way of ‘acclimatisation’. The UK however, is promoting the equivalent of zerówka in formal schools for 4yr old kids, which in my opinion is ridiculous.
Dame Gillian Pugh, who chaired the review’s advisory committee, said: “If you introduce a child to too formal a curriculum before they are ready, you are not taking into account where children are in terms of their learning and their capacity to develop.”
A separate review, by Sir Jim Rose, that was commissioned and accepted by the Government, called for four-year-olds to go straight into primary reception classes. But Sir Jim recommended that parents be able to defer their child’s entry to school by up to a year if they felt they were not ready.
There’s no way Zosia was ready to begin her formal schooling at age four and we need to remember that although zerówka is only a preparatory stage it is still a big change from playschool. Far more emphasis on preparing the children for the rigours of formal education (timing, discipline, structure) and therefore far less on socialising with her friends and just having fun. I fail to see how anyone can get a 4yr old kid to grasp the importance of most of the things they wish to educate them about, let alone get them to concentrate long enough for it sink in. Even if they were concentrating, are they really able understand what they are being taught? For sure at that age I would say they don’t really want to be educated nor do they care about how important any adult might think the subject is.
I therefore think the Polish system is just about right for the majority of kids. Let them be kids and socialise until age five. Let them transition age six, preferably in a formal school environment because the transition will not be complete without that – a sort of “school-light” – and then let battle commence at age seven. From our own experience anything more rapid than that would be unnatural, bring no benefits and possibly a few drawbacks in terms of social skills and general “happiness factor”.
Of course, your kid may well be a child genius who needs special treatment and I’m sure there are many of those around, at least in the parent’s eyes!?