Educational Theory

School starting age

School starting age: the evidence is an article from a Cambridge University researcher.
It raises some questions about why we are continuing an educational trend that seems to have no benefit to the children.

Studies have compared groups of children in New Zealand who started formal literacy lessons at ages 5 and 7. Their results show that the early introduction of formal learning approaches to literacy does not improve children’s reading development, and may be damaging. By the age of 11 there was no difference in reading ability level between the two groups, but the children who started at 5 developed less positive attitudes to reading, and showed poorer text comprehension than those children who had started later.
– See more at:
http://www.cam.ac.uk/research/discussion/school-starting-age-the-evidence#sthash.WeVQOu7L.dpuf

Presumably this article is referring to this work carried out at the University of Otago by Dr Sebastian Suggate.  The university’s own press release can be found here.  But the précis is this:

Starting in 2007, Dr Suggate conducted one international and two New Zealand studies, each one backing up the conclusions of the other; that there is no difference between the reading ability of early (from age five) and late (from age seven) readers by the time those children reach their last year at Primary School by age 11.

It seems that lots of early language development may be a greater predictor of later reading.  So why are we hearing refrains that the world is ending if kids aren’t all reading Harry Potter by the time they’re six?  It strikes me that we’ve turned learning and gaining an education into some sort of competitive sport – for the kids and parents alike.
This is not to say that we should ignore children who are struggling to gain basic skills, I just think we need to be a bit more open to the reasons why the skills aren’t being shown.  Is it an actual learning difficulty, or is it simply a lack of interest and not being ready to engage yet?

As a home educator I can see whether my kids are really struggling or simply not interested, because I’m the teacher.  I’m with them all day, every day.  They can’t fudge me.  And if I’m unsure I watch them closely for a while and accept that if it’s disinterest that I need to either wait until they are ready, or offer an alternative way of coming at the skills.  If it truly was a struggle then I would investigate why and how I could meet their needs.
Perhaps this is not possible in a school setting and therefore, partly out of panic (accountability for kids not meeting set peer levels), it is all too easy to force learning on an unwilling child.

I’ve been hearing some dreadful stories lately about how some teachers can’t or don’t deal well with children who have serious learning issues to overcome.  The teacher who says that a child with severe auditory processing disabilities suddenly “clicked” with skills instead of acknowledging that it was the new technology that the parent had found, and was absolutely the reason why there was such a profound change, is appalling.   Imagine what a little bit of a delay in interest rather than an actual learning disability would be deemed in this teacher’s classroom.  Most probably the child would be considered ‘lazy’ or thought of as less intelligent.

Unfortunately this has turned into a bit of a rant, when it was meant to be a simple sharing of interesting information.
Let’s just say that Albert Einstein had it right,

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

One thought on “School starting age

  1. I so agree with you. It blows my mind how even though there is such obvious evidence (Finland for example) that waiting later to formally teach children is beneficial, NZ and other western countries feel it is necessary to force kids into school, childcare, etc rather than them remain within their family unit. We have so many more social problems today than academic ones. Frankly some of the biggest arses I know are highly educated … lol

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