No sooner do their children celebrate their second birthday than several parents pack of their tiny tots to school. This is a rising trend in Goa due to a variety of reasons.
While many parents are unable to keep up with the mental and physical energy of their toddlers, there are others who are planning to resume their professional life. Then there are some who are concerned about losing out on the admission quota of the desired school if they enrol their children any later.
Let’s dig a bit deeper into this change in lifestyle to see if it would impact a child's development for better or for worse. To benchmark this age internationally, it would help us to know that in Finland, children begin formal education only when they turn seven while the average age that a child starts school is two-and-a-half. The Scandinavian nation, incidentally, has the happiest students in the world, as per findings published by the US-based Centre for Teaching Quality (CTQ) Collaboratory.
While there is no official collaborative report on the happiness index of Indian students, the increasing number of school dropouts and the incidence of suicide and high-risk behaviour in the student community make it amply clear.
The school education department in India, through a government resolution (GR), has fixed the minimum age for admission to nursery at 3 years from the 2015-2016 academic year and 6 years for Class I by 2018-2019. This is similar to countries like Bangladesh and Pakistan.
When it comes to Goa, some parents make a conscious choice to send their children to pre-primary schools, while for others; it is out of certain compulsions. For instance, one parent says she sent her toddler daughter to a pre-primary because she was afraid she would lose out on the admission quota at the primary school level if she enrolled her any later.
Speaking to Panaji-based professional Samantha Fernandes (name changed) revealed that she sends her one-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Ria (named changed), to a play school in the vicinity of the capital city to "allow her to pick up social skills early on".
Another parent points out to the skills that his two-and-a-half year old is learning at school including hand coordination by way of playing with paints and learning simple skills like how to eat and cut fruits. Picking up simple life skills, he opines, is more important for the child in his/her first six years.
"Pre-primary schools for 3-year-old children should introduce a play-way method with a smaller group of children. Practical learning should be encouraged to make learning better," says president of the Goa Psychology Association, Amita Quenim.
Another reason which is prompting parents in Goa to send their young children to schools is in order to provide the right kind of mental engagement. Parents of two-and-a-half-year-old children say that they enrolled their children in pre-primary school as it was getting increasingly difficult to mentally stimulate our children. Instead of plopping them in front of the TV or giving them a mobile phone we wanted to engage their growing and developing mind.
These parents consulted psychologists before sending their children to play schools where their wards are imparted informal education in an interactive, stimulating environment. According to them the benefits are endless. Their toddlers, who are single children, have found a socializing platform, are learning early to cope with separation anxiety, are involved in various interesting activities and outings and are picking up vital skills.
However, not everyone is in agreement with this trend. Some experts think otherwise. "3 is definitely too young an age for children to begin formal learning," says consultant psychiatrist, psychotherapist and author Dr Belinda Viegas, adding that most children would not be able to cope with the psychological demands (concentration, understanding), social demands, as well as the physical ability to hold and manoeuvre a pencil at such a tender age.
Yet, she clarifies that she does not think there is any ideal age at which to enrol a child in school as "this varies from child to child". "A very young child in school may have coping problems, which could manifest as behavioural problems, like inattention and hyperactivity, later," she explains.
Corroborating Viegas' statement is a study by India's National Bureau of Economic Research titled, 'The Gift of Time? School Starting Age and Mental Health', which has unearthed strong evidence that delaying kindergarten by a year provides mental health benefits to children, allowing them to self-regulate their attention and hyperactivity levels better.
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