Formal lessons being taught in many prep classrooms are making it difficult for children to succeed, warns the Early Childhood Teachers’ Association (ECTA).
In Queensland, prep students are starting school younger than ever amid concerns that parents are sending their children to school before they are ready.
The number of incoming prep students turning five in July increased from just 10 students in 2014 to 808 in 2015 and 939 in 2016, according to preliminary figures released by the Queensland Education Department.
Early Childhood Teachers’ Association (ECTA) president, Kim Walters, told The Educator that a survey carried out by the association last year showed “overwhelming support” by its members of a starting age of five by January 2017.
“The more formal pedagogy being taught in many prep classrooms and the over-crowding of the curriculum in prep has made it difficult for many children to succeed, develop a love of learning, positive attitudes to schooling and learning,” she said.
“This is no fault of the child. The environment and expectations are being imposed on them. We were very pleased to see the age-appropriate pedagogy research project being carried out by the department last year and extended into this year.”
Walters said there were significant benefits of children starting school at an older age.
“Older children are able to thrive in a school setting. They are emotionally, socially and physically ready for the demands of schooling,” she explained.
“Children who are too young developmentally struggle and this can lead to a negative view of school and poor self-confidence.”
She added that in many countries, children do not start formal learning until they are seven years of age, adding these countries have higher literacy rates and children have more positive attitudes to schooling.
Walters said one under-discussed factor that was important for parents and schools to consider was the need to tighten entry eligibility and to educate principals on school readiness.
“Our members report far too many early entry children had to repeat prep the following year,” she said.
Surveys by the Australian Education Union (AEU) in 2014 suggested that even four-year-olds lack basic school-ready skills. Others have cited anecdotal evidence that has shown schooling five-year-olds is detrimental to their mental development.
Dr David Whitebread, Cambridge University expert in the cognitive development of young children, said “the overwhelming evidence suggests that five is simply too young to start formal learning”.
Whitebread added that “children should be engaged in informal play-based learning until the age of about seven.”