Nursery, preschool, kindergarten, pre-kindergarten, pre-pre-kindergarten. What’s next? Postnatal school? The pressure on parents and toddlers to enter the learning race is becoming extremely overpowering, with much of a child’s play days turning into grueling learning sojourns. Instab Sahi finds out if there’s anything wrong with putting kids barely able to walk into alien settings meant to get them “learning”.

s soon as a child is born in a reasonably provided Pakistani family, the new parents begin anticipating future-steps, which would ensure that the toddler touches the pinnacle of success in life. The first step of this long, tiring and rewarding journey, for the parents mostly, is to find a preschool to send their child to.The process of finding a suitable preschool must not take too long, for if the parents do not manage to send their 24-month-old kid to a well-recognized school in time, they might end up lagging far behind in the race to win the parenting trophy.Therefore, within the first two years of a child’s appearance on the world’s stage, they have to be up to a costume and setting change i.e. from home to school and warm overalls to a dressy apparel fit for the classroom environment.Now, pre-schooling may not be a recent phenomenon, but it most certainly is a recent obsession.

Get Learning...Or Get Lost

Some 30 years ago, people would admit their children into schools at about 4 years of age on average, however, the age of enrollment has come down to 24 months nowadays. As if that wasn’t young enough, a new concept is quickly picking pace, the pre-pre-schooling concept.Is sending your child to a preschool an absolute necessity as most parents seem to believe nowadays? Or is it that preschools are only cashing in on young parents’ naïve hopes of turning their children into geniuses through all means exhaustible.Research reveals that the period from birth until 2 years of age is crucial for the brain’s development. The period is characterized by rapid, dynamic development and plays an important role in cognitive skill-building. However, the debate of nature vs nurture predates all discussions around the role of pre-schooling in a child’s growth.

A Finnish Success Story

A country that truly revolutionized its education system over the past few decades is Finland. In the 1970s the Finnish government decided to remodel its education system and make it more learning-intensive, instead of grade-obsessed.Today, the Finnish model is world-recognized and the country’s consistent performance on PISA Test is a vivid proof that whatever the Finnish are doing is working incredibly well for their students.The starkest difference between the Finnish approach to learning and Pakistan’s educational paradigm is that children start school at 6-7 years of age in the former.

A few decades ago, people would admit their children into schools at about 4 years of age on average, however, the age of enrollment has come down to as little as 24 months nowadays

Instead of complicating the process of introducing kids to schools, Finland has tried to simplify it as much as possible. The 190 day school year is based on single-structure education for nine years from enrollment. There is no standardized testing during the basic education period and there is only a single matriculation exam after the completion of upper-secondary education, which takes about three years to complete.The Finnish education model sounds like a fantastical notion and less of an implementable system, but in reality not only is the model effectively in place for decades, it is constantly transforming young Finns into equally worthy members of the world’s happiest country.This does not mean that Pakistan has to quickly abandon its slightly rusty education system and try importing the Finnish model. Nonetheless, some inspiration can most definitely be drawn from the success of the renowned system of the Nordic nation.

A Pakistani Example

Green Earth Roshni School in Lahore is a name most would not be familiar with. The reason is quite simple; it is a one-of-a-kind institution catering to children from underprivileged backgrounds.The school, based on the German Waldorf model, is taking an alternative approach to teaching unheard of in mainstream schools. Talking to Academia Magazine, the PR manager for Green Earth Foundation and the school, Amir Rizvi, explained how the school had adapted the world-renowned education system. “The Waldorf Steiner system is quite an exclusive model and we cannot implement the whole of it as is, but we have tried to bring as much of it in action as we can, considering it would otherwise appear to be incompatible with the Pakistani education model.” 

Psychiatrist Dr Tariq Aziz says sending a child to any school, under whatever context you choose to name it, at 2 years of age is simply unacceptable

The Waldorf system does not rely on ideas like standardized testing or even strict-to-the-t teaching method. Children in the early years of education are taught through stories and poems, classrooms are relaxed and there is a heavy emphasis on teacher-student relations. However, in a traditional Pakistani school the focus is on lecture-laden sessions. Moreover, reading and writing begin soon after admission. Contrarily in the Waldorf schools, or those inspired by the model, reading and writing is properly initiated at 7 years of age.“Grading is not a common practice in our school and we employ pedagogical methods to make learning more interesting for children,

Parents complain that preschools often reject admitting 3-year olds, as they are ‘too old’ for groups where all children are no more than two and half years old

” Rizvi said. It is also pleasant to note that the Green Earth Roshni School is catering to children with special needs. “We have a special-persons program through we which we are striving towards inclusive education.”The school starts from Kindergarten and caters to children up to 8th grade. “Our students, when they leave the program are prepared to take any of the regular Punjab board examinations.” According to Rizvi, the school may not work on conventional lines, but it is nonetheless preparing students for integration into the local education system.

Too Early A Flight 

To fully comprehend whether or not preschools are necessary for 2-year olds, we spoke to someone with years of experience in child-psychiatry. Dr Tariq Aziz is a retired psychiatrist who now works from home and lends his expertise at a rehabilitation clinic for addicts.In is discussion with Academia Magazine, the doctor said there was absolutely no need to send 24-30 month-old kids to a school of any kind. “Children in their early years need to stay close to their parents. Sending a child to any school, under whatever context you choose to name it, at 2 years of age is simply unacceptable.” The good doctor saw the problem too clearly. “The real purpose of a preschool is to allow a child develop motor and cognitive skills through play. But what most preschools in Pakistan do is focus on teaching numbers etc to toddlers. They simply fail to serve their original purpose.”

Preschools meant to promote “play learning” routinely start burdening toddlers with homework

So what is the age parents should have in mind to take the leap of enrolling a child into a school? Aziz said 4 years should be the minimum age to get a child admitted into a school. “At 4 years of age, a child is better able to adapt to a school setting. At this age most children can communicate their queries and worries. We do not want children to develop a fear or phobia of the classroom. If schools thrust tests and homework on upon young minds, it can lead to an aversion of classrooms and schools, where they will be spending most of their time as they move ahead in life,” the psychiatrist opined. 

The Pressure Is Real

But while experts might offer clear words of caution on extra-early schooling, parents are often pressed hard to ignore such advice and go with the flow, whether they like it or not.Sending toddlers to preschool has almost become a custom. Schools have set specifics age limits for admissions and the larger network of schools even encourage registrations with them as soon as a baby is born to ensure that a child gets considered for an eventual admission. 

And to top it off more and more parents prefer sending their children to “exclusive/premier” preschools with monthly fees that cost an arm and a leg each time you have to pay them.But higher risks lead to higher rewards; at least that is what those running these preschools claim is the case.When we decided to get our son enrolled in one of Lahore’s prestigious preschools, we were told that our 3-year old was ‘too old’ for the class where all children were no more than two and half years old,” a young mother told Academia MagazineBut she also pointed out to other factors for parents’ urgency to get kids into schools at the earliest, besides the social pressure. “It is the changing family-structure that makes it imperative to send children to preschools. The family dynamics are changing, rapidly. In many households, both parents are working to support the lifestyle they want their children to have, and since there are hardly any well-reputed daycares in Pakistan, they feel it is always a good option to send your child to school.”

Preschool teachers opine that children need routine, proper guidance regarding mannerism along with learning essential motor skills, so preschools are essential

The young mother also said that “mothers deserve a breather too. A stay at home mum needs relaxation of some kind, and if something good comes out of it, all the better.” However, she was quick to point out that preschools that often market themselves as play-intensive quickly turn on the work-mode. “The major objection I have developed to the preschool system is that they start burdening children with homework.”As she explains the situation, it becomes clear that preschools are less play and more work for young minds. “My son would bring back 3 pages worth of homework every day from school. On weekends, the workload could easily double. Therefore, be prepared to make your 3-year olds do their homework, prep for tests and be assessed in pre-kindergarten.”After a detailed conversation, it was apparent that the problem was not the preschools, but the way preschoolers get treated. Children up to 5 should not have to panic over doing well on a test. Preschools must restructure their models, because children are sent to these schools to learn, but not learn to be rocket scientists.

The Other Side

Hooria Anjum is an extremely well-versed individual in preschoolers’ lingo and believes “preschools are essential for your child”. The teacher, with over a decade’s experience, is quick to point the benefits of pre-schooling. “Children need routine, proper guidance regarding mannerism along with learning essential motor skills, and that is exactly what preschools are designed to do.”According to Hooria, preschools hone “social-skills” in a child. “When children are placed in a setting with others from their age-group, they begin to blossom.”Asked if 2-year-old toddlers were too young to attend school, the seasoned preschooler pointed out the social dynamics that were making it necessary for parents to send their children to schools, earlier, and earlier. “A preschool is the preferred option because parents know well that their children are in a productive environment crucial for their development.”Having worked in some of the country’s most renowned schools, Hooria knows the importance of quality education right from the beginning. “I have taught children from different age groups, and can confidently say that children who have been to preschools vs the ones who are introduced to school setting later are more well-behaved, calm, and eager to learn because of their familiarity with the classroom setting.”

Takeaway 

There is no doubt that preschools can prepare younger ones for primary school through play and practice. However, the fact that most preschools start overloading young minds with more difficult concepts instead of focusing on basic learning is quite a concern and belies what preschools were meant to be.Every child is different, and so is the pace they learn at. If your neighbor’s child can count to 50 at 3 isn’t necessarily a sign that your child, who is still stumbling upon the counting ladder, is any less intelligent.There is an immediate need to rid the lives of our children from this misplaced sense of ‘competition’.As Einstein would say, “the true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination”, parents should start focusing on the creative, individual abilities of their children, instead of feeding them the standardized potion in hope that they might attain all knowledge known to human in the first five years of their life.

As with any second decision in human life, there are always pros and cons of what we decide to put our children through. However, blindly following a system is the most dangerous undertaking we often choose, fearlessly. Sending your child to a preschool should not be treated as a compulsion. And, there are plenty of models out there to reinforce the last statement. Find what works for your child and then take a careful decision.Some children might thrive in competitive situations from a young age, but others might not be able to keep up with the pressures of a classroom setting at the tender age of 3.Focusing on the individual needs of a child might provide an excellent answer to whether your child needs a preschool, or only parental attention to excel.And to quote Einstein again, what’s right isn’t always popular. And what’s popular isn’t always right.

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