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When Is the Right Age To Start Your Child’s School Journey?

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“Creativity is the key to success in the future, and primary education is where teachers can nurture creativity in children”.

A.P.J. Abdul Kalam

The question of when to start education is one grappled with by governments across the globe, and in every country, you will hear a different answer to this question. For parents, it is such a big milestone and a decision that is not taken lightly, this variation between countries only further confuses and conflicts an already difficult decision. So where can we search for the answer? Every four years, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) runs an international assessment of each country’s education programme called PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment). This test measures a 15 year old’s ability to use their reading, mathematics and science knowledge to meet real-life challenges. The tests are conducted in each country that elects to take part in PISA. Interestingly, Bahrain, alongside other GCC countries, has recently elected to take part in the next assessment cycle. Following these tests, OECD  produces an in-depth analysis of spatial variations between countries, and a famous (or infamous) PISA global league table. The publication of this league table always creates much discussion and debate among educationists and governments around all matters of issues, including the starting age of students enrolling in education.

One of the lasting shadows cast by the global pandemic is the impact of education on the youngest students. Of course, very young students did not access online learning as effectively as their older peers. Even within the regionally renowned schools, which offered the best online provisions available, there was a noticeable difference between the engagement of 3-year-olds and 16-year-olds. Now that education has returned to normal in most countries worldwide, the number of students aged below 6 has surprisingly not yet returned to pre-pandemic levels. Should this concern us as a society, are we creating an educational problem for later, and should it concern parents who have elected to not start education as early as the pre-pandemic generation did? 

OECD conducted research in 2019 into the longer-term impact of school attendance on children of Nursery and Reception age. They measured how these formative years established these children later in life and their academic proficiencies at the age of fifteen. By measuring attainment at age fifteen, they could correlate achievement with those students who had attended enriching early years of education. The results of this research were released in January 2020 and showed that quality Nursery and  Reception education makes a statistically significant difference to student attainment in the longer term; the key findings in this research emphasised the importance of the highest quality early years learning, as opposed to simpler childcare, such as at home nannies, to enable this positive effect.

So, when is the right age to start education? Of course, the response from outstanding schools such as the British School of Bahrain would be that students should join as early as possible and immerse themselves into a rich and stimulating learning environment that nurtures creativity and passion among our other values. However, there is more to education than just the formal learning that occurs in a classroom. Children develop through experiences that shape their characters, sow the seeds of moral values and begin to form them as individuals. During the pandemic, due to lockdowns and social restrictions, many of these experiences were denied to students, and now post-pandemic, while academic progress can be restored, it will take much longer for experiences to be replicated, and through these experiences, students enabled to catch up socially and emotionally. Making connections and relationships, through enquiry-based learning, is at the centre of a great school’s Early Years approach – once a child starts thinking for themselves, they keep thinking for themselves, and this feeds directly into better literacy and numeracy; our creative and exploratory pedagogies in Early Years prepare children to maximise learning as they move up into the rigorous teacher guided curriculum. Furthermore, our education is based on creating experiences as well as nurturing excellence in the classroom.

To conclude, this debate will always continue, and following the next PISA league tables, it will be rekindled once more. What is clear is that an early years education that creates experiences significantly benefits students now and later on in life.

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