What age should children start schooling? New national survey says not too early
Results of the ASER 2019 survey "clearly show that performance on cognitive, early language, early numeracy, and social and emotional development tasks is closely related to children's age, with older children doing better than younger ones."
At what age should your children be at school? Better after they are 6, suggests the latest Annual Status of Education Report (ASER 2019), based on a survey of thousands of children in rural India.
"Permitting underage children into primary grades puts them at a learning disadvantage which is difficult to overcome," says the report that was based on a survey conducted in 26 districts across 24 states in India. It covered a total of 1,514 villages, 30,425 households, and 36,930 children in the age group of 4-8 years.
Results of the survey "clearly show that performance on cognitive, early language, early numeracy, and social and emotional development tasks is closely related to children's age, with older children doing better than younger ones".
According to it, only 5.7% of the standard I students who are of the age 4 and 5 could read a standard I level textbook, while 26% of children of the age 7 in the same standard could do so. About 62% of the students of the age 4 and 5 could not even read even a letter, while the ratio for the same among 7 year-olds was 23.5%.
While the Right to Education Act mandates the age of 6 to start schooling, more than a quarter of Std I students in government schools were either 4 or 5 years old. In private schools the ratio was at 15.7%, meaning standard I students were older.
"Age makes a substantial difference to learning. Even within a given school type, older children in Std I perform better than younger ones on every task," the report said.
Children's ability to read Std I level text improves from 16.2% of children in Std I to 50.8% children in Std III, it revealed.
"This means that half of all children in Std III are already at least two years behind where the curriculum expects them
to be," said the survey.
Similarly, 41.1% of students in Std I can recognize 2-digit numbers, while 72.2% of students in Std III can do so. But as per NCERT's specification of learning outcomes, children are expected to be able to recognize numbers up to 99 in Std I itself.
Play is better than subject learning
Children's performance on tasks requiring cognitive skills is strongly related to their ability to do early language tasks and early numeracy tasks, the survey showed when it looked into the age group 4-5.
"This suggests that focusing on play-based activities that build memory, reasoning, and problem-solving abilities is more productive than an early focus on content knowledge," the report said.
Such a focus on "activities that strengthen cognitive skills rather than subject learning in the early years may generate
substantial benefits in terms of children’s future learning," it added.
“Early childhood #education should not be about getting children #school ready” says Madhav Chavan at the @asercentre #ASER2019 launch “the focus should be on broader problem-solving and reasoning skills to prepare them to #learn in #school” @Pratham_India pic.twitter.com/fxueD2I288— Hannah-May Wilson (@hmaywilson) January 14, 2020
How family background affects
Child development experts say that from age 4 to age 5, children’s ability to do all cognitive, emotional and social tasks improve substantially. But the survey found that a large proportion of rural Indian children are not able to do do so.
"Children from less advantaged homes are disproportionately affected. Although almost half of all 4-year-olds and more than a quarter of all 5-year-olds are enrolled in anganwadis, these children have far lower levels of cognitive skill and foundational ability than their counterparts in private LKG/UKG classes," the report said.
Meanwhile, the National Education Policy, drafted by the central government has proposed an integrated primary schooling system to cover children from the age 3 to 8, based on play, activity and discovery, and begin exposure to three languages from age 3 onwards. The NCERT has been asked to create a Curricular and Pedagogical Framework for early childhood education.
The largest citizen-led survey in India, ASER has been conducted by NGO Pratham every year since 2005.