She’s too young… or is she?

Today, NZ Herald’s Nicholas Jones summarized some of the changes coming in the Education (Update) Amendment Bill, with emphasis on the change from starting school after your birthday to a cohort start. In short, this means that a child will be allowed to attend school from the first day of term, if they are turning five in that term. Which could mean a bunch of kids start school at four.

When I heralded this news on social (see what I did there) a friend linked me to an NPR article pointing out that Finland, long lauded as the ‘best’ in education, start their kids at 7… in fact, that same article noted how, by age 15, Finnish kids are “outperforming all but a few countries on international assessments” – I’m guessing this is alluding to the PISA global assessment.

I’d also like to highlight another point in that same article: “Despite the late start, the vast majority arrive with solid reading and math skills”, and in fact in the very next paragraph… “over 97% of 3-6 year olds attend a [preschool] program of one type or another” (emphasis added)

On the other hand, Aotearoa is hovering around the 54% mark.

In fact, it’s not even about the ability to read and do math. Studies have shown that it is the very act of listening to language (any language) that makes the most difference. If we cannot push for universal pre-school care, then rushing the kids into school faster is not necessarily a bad thing. Otherwise, what we are doing is increasing that gap at a vitally important stage in their lives.

I have two children. They are now 9 and 6. I am extremely lucky, in that I can afford to give them extra-curricular activities. Before they started school, they both had rudimentary literacy and numeracy skills, and now I’ve extended them further with after school tutoring… as a result… my nine year old is doing algebra and about to start on calculus and reading chapter books that would floor some adults. For those that cannot afford to do that, having the children in formal education as early as possible is the only way that we can close this gap.

I feel saddened every day when people claim some kid is smarter than some other kid. More often than not, you are looking at years of opportunities that the other kid didn’t get, let’s not hold back our kids anymore.