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Are pre-primaries succumbing to parental pressure for early reading, writing & numeracy

PANEL DISCUSSION

Are pre-primaries succumbing to parental pressure for early reading, writing & numeracy

The interactive panel discussion of the EW ECE Global Conference 2015 on the subject ‘Are pre-primaries succumbing to parental pressure for early reading, writing and numeracy?’ was spirited and thought-provoking. Chaired by Summiya Yasmeen (SY), managing editor of EducationWorld, the panel comprised Prriety Gosalia (PG), co-founder and CEO of Leapbridge International preschools in Mumbai and Pune; Swati Popat Vats (SPV), president of the Early Childhood Association of India (ECA); Jeremy Williams (JW) of Griffith University, Australia and Kumaraesan Subramaniam (KS), general manager, Asian International College, Singapore. Excerpts from the 90-minute panel discussion:

SY: Parental pressure on children to excel — especially academically — is an enduring characteristic of middle class India. Over the past two decades with the accelerated growth of the preschool sector — there are over 300,000 private pre-primaries in the country — the pressure on children to start learning begins early. With no standardisation of ECCE curriculums, in most preschools children as young as three are made to do cursive writing, learn multiplication tables, and write tests in disciplined classroom environments. Swati, are preschool parents too pushy about reading, writing and numeracy?

SPV: Yes, there is enormous parental pressure on preschools to start teaching the 3Rs. Children as young as two are being made to study numbers and read and write the alphabet, with kindergarteners taught to do subtraction, division and multiplication sums. Parents want their children initiated into formal learning as soon as they enter play school. And pre-primaries are succumbing to this pressure. Myopically, a majority of them are focusing on infrastructure — air-conditioned classrooms, swimming pools, etc — when their emphasis should be on developing and delivering child-centric curriculums. ECCE curriculums which are not developmentally appropriate i.e, suitable to the age and developmental stage of children, lead to stress and low retention, and can severely damage infants emotionally and socially.

SY: Research studies in the West have confirmed that over-emphasis on formal education and abstract concepts of literacy and numeracy before age five can result in a sense of failure, long-term underachievement, disaffection and even truancy. Prriety, what are the consequences of learning too much too early?

PG: The pressure to learn too much too early kills children’s innate curiousity and burns them out. Parents are over-structuring, over-managing and over-educating their children. Preschool teachers need to counsel parents on the adverse effects of age-inappropriate ECCE and emphasise the benefits of learning though play and experiential activities at the pre-primary stage.

Given the lack of quality ECCE teacher training programmes, there’s also an urgent need to educate teachers about age commensurate teaching-learning. Unfortunately in India, there are two extremes — on one hand there is no teaching-learning happening in the country’s 1.3 million anganwadis, whereas on the other hand there is too much learning going on in private preschools.

SY: Jeremy, how have preschools in the West struck a balance between parental expectations and age-appropriate curriculums?

JW: Four years ago, at this very forum I poked fun at Indian parents for putting their children in hothouses and planning their careers even before they can hold a pencil. Since then, in my own country — Australia — a new National Assessment Program for Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) has been introduced for school children. These battery of tests to be taken by children in classes III, V and IX have led to enormous parental pressure being put on kindergartens to prepare children for NAPLAN.

Parental and societal pressure on pre-primary children to perform well academically is a global phenomenon. In countries such as Korea and Japan, it’s much worse.

SY: In Singapore as in India, parental pressure on preschools to begin early reading, writing and numeracy is intense. Yet Singapore boasts one of the world’s best ECCE systems. Kumaraesan, your comment?

KS: You are right; there is heavy pressure on children in Singapore from a young age because parents want them to be ready for the country’s rigid and competitive school system. Yet because ECCE curriculums are standardised and have to be approved by the education ministry, the quality of early childhood care and education is good. The government is also making an effort to introduce holistic education at the pre-primary level. But a lot more needs to be done by preschool managements and the government to educate parents about the beneficial outcomes of 0-5 age group children experiencing holistic and broad curriculums which include dance, play and creativity.

SY: In India, there is no government-mandated national ECCE curriculum, resulting in wide disparity in programmes followed by preschools.

SPV: The Union ministry of women and child development’s National Early Childhood Care and Education (NECCE) policy, approved in 2013, has prescribed an ECCE curriculum framework which sets out developmentally appropriate activities for early childhood education centres. But the NECCE curriculum framework is not mandatory. Therefore the onus is on preschool managements to collaborate and agree to implement a standardised ECCE curriculum countrywide. The ECA is ready to take the lead and initiate this process.

PG: Yes, unity among preschools is missing. We need to speak in one voice and stop aping primary schools by following their curriculums. Simultaneously, parent education is critical and preschool teachers must take the lead in making them understand why social and emotional learning is as important as cognitive learning in the early years.

JW: In the absence of government regulation, preschools in India need to come together to address the issue of age-inappropriate curriculums. If you wait for the government to act, it may be too late. The consequences of pushing children into structured formal learning are devastating, manifesting in teenage years when children are unable to cope with stress and failure.

SY: To conclude, there’s an urgent need for preschool managements to unite, re-examine and reshape their curriculums to ensure age-appropriate learning. Moreover, they need to educate parents on the adverse effects of early learning, respect for child rights, and the long-term benefits of holistic curriculums.

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