According to research, children aged five and under learn more in a play-based environment than they do at school.
While there is a view among some parents and academics that making children start formal schooling too early can negatively affect their learning outcomes, an even bigger concern is how this can impact on a child's stress levels.
Last year, a study conducted by Melbourne University's Michael Bernard found 40% of students worry too much, and one in five has had a bout of depression.
World-renowned Finnish educator, Pasi Sahlberg – who currently works for the University of NSW’s (UNSW) Gonski Institute – believes he might have some answers to address these issues.
Having been part of building the education system in Finland and worked in education policy and research all his life, Sahlberg has been able to study education systems across Europe and around the world.
Sahlberg says that if it were up to him, there are three key things he would put in place: design the school system from a child’s perspective, implement a universal early childhood system before formal schooling begins and start formal schooling at age six.
In countries such as Singapore and Hong Kong, it is normal for children to begin formal schooling at this age, but in Finland, children begin formal schooling one year later at age seven.
“We do this in Finland and in other Nordic countries. Our experience is that children benefit from this and are quite excited to start ‘real school’ they undergo for the next 11 or more years,” Sahlberg writes on the UNSW website.
“There is no evidence that starting school early or having longer school days provides any benefits.”
Sahlberg pointed out that for those parents thinking of deliberately having their child repeat a year at school, research also shows that there are mostly downsides from doing this, such as leading to a higher drop-out rate and feelings of stigma and disassociation.
“And it is a very expensive remedy anyway,” he added.
Sahlberg said that while there is no blank canvas to redesign any school system, there are some important lessons from other school systems around the world.
“For me, most importantly is to ensure the pathway to school is a fun and play-based experience designed from the children’s perspective,” Sahlberg said.
“Also important is to allow schools to adapt to the needs of the children and not work in a one-size fits all model.”