Dilemmas of Early Learning

In most of Europe children start pre-school at age 5 or 6, proper school at age 6 or 7. In UK, they start at age 4. Two obvious questions arise;
a) Why the difference?
b) Which works best?

Well, the answer to a) is a rather ironic one. When mass schooling was really getting going in Victorian times most schools were set up by industrialist ‘benefactors’. The truth was they wanted resources manpower to work their factories, mines etc. and the offices alongside. Their logic was simple – the sooner kids went in, the sooner they would come out and start work!

So, what we have is an industrialised model which has simply been perpetuated. Not only has nobody thought to change it, but in india further logic has suggested that the earlier children start the more they will get a head start on children of other countries.

So, the bigger question – b) which model works best and what should be the future?

I have to state up front that all my research, understanding and first hand experience puts me in the ‘later is better’ camp. The fact is that in those Scandinavian countries, by the time the children are 15 they are outperforming children from all over the world (PISA tests).

This doesn’t mean that i’m completely set against early years play groups etc. However, they have to stay ‘play’. Here in india, with temptation on the part of both over-ambitious parents and teachers too many can’t resist the ‘let’s get a head start’ approach.

My understanding of the basics of ‘brain science’ in early learning is that before a particular skill can be taken on board the necessary neural network needs to be in place. There can be variation in the timing of arrival of those networks (that bear no relation to later learning, maturation or intelligence levels). So, for example, different children acquire the skills to start walking at different times spread over a 4-5 month period. However, they all walk (barring physical disability) without anyone needing to be put in remedial class for walking.

However, think what happens later. I’m 4 years old and I’m in a classroom with 30 other 4 year olds. We’re all expected to read. The boy on my left is doing it. The girl on my right is doing it. But, my neural network isn’t in place yet, so i’m not ready – I can’t do it, try as I might. Disappointment is all over teacher’s face. Mother looks worried, frowns a lot, buys me some more books and cuts my rest time in the afternoons so i can spend more time learning to read.

Now, what do i think of myself? How do i perceive myself as a learner? as a reader? The fact is that everyone’s been playing russian roulette and I’m the loser that gets the bullet.

When my own son was in elementary school, one day he came home and announced; “I know why we go to school. It’s so that we learn how to sit down still and quietly”!!

So, I do believe that play groups have a valid purpose, especially for the fact that children will spend that time in the company of professional, trained care givers (instead of the increasing amount of time that many are spending in the company of untrained maids). This can be beneficial as far as socialisation, language and vocabulary exposure.

However, I believe the educators and parents have got to be continually on their guard to ensure nobody’s getting tempted to start ‘teaching for a head start’.

The first school (2)

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Heritage City – Neighbours From Hell

Since i last wrote in this blog about the neighbours from hell, using their proximity to the Residents Association, torturing the neighbourhood they’re having their second noisy, roudy party.

The last one was stopped by the police around midnight. Against a permissible limit of 45 decibels, they were blasting out enough for a reading around 60 even on my balcony.

Today, it’s earlier. Not satisfied to celebrate Holi like everyone else, they have to carry their anti-social behaviour to extremes. As it’s before 10.00pm the permissible noise level “at the boundary of the private place” is 55. Currently, the readings are touching 70 on my balcony.

So, on recent basis that is three occasions in the space of one month when these people have flouted the law (basically every second weekend). What on earth makes them think they have the right to behave in ways that show such little respect for the civic rights of others?

The long and the short is that ‘citizen power’ is the only thing that will make them change their selfish, thoughtless and crass ways.

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