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Starting school at age five: Should we?

PETALING JAYA, 2 July 2010: If the government wants children to start school at five instead of six, it must first review the existing curriculum for pre-school and Standard One, experts said.

Less emphasis

Curriculum for younger students should have less emphasis on academic performance

“There ought to be some reviewing of the curriculum so that there’s less emphasis on academic performance at such an early stage,” said Datuk Dr Chiam Heng Keng, who is Malaysia’s representative on the Asean Commission on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Women and Children.

“At Standard One, it is more important to have all-round, physical and emotional development. This must be balanced with the academic aspects like knowing alphabets and numbers, counting and reading,” said the former Malaysian Human Rights (Suhakam) commissioner in a phone interview.

Chiam was responding to the government’s intention to lower the entry age for schooling by one year, as proposed in the 10th Malaysia Plan chapter on “Developing and retaining a first-world talent base”.

The proposed change is likely to involve one million children, according to the Education Ministry. It is to be implemented by the end of the Plan period, which runs from 2010 to 2015, as part of skilled human capital development.

The plan mentions the expansion of early childhood education programmes and a drive to increase the number of children enrolling in pre-school as preparation for a lower schooling age. It does not mention whether the Standard One curriculum will need to be adjusted.

National Union of the Teaching Profession (NUTP) secretary-general Lok Yim Pheng said having the right pre-school curriculum was the key to ensuring smooth entry into Standard One at an earlier age.

What about nutrition?

How about nutrition?

“It’s not just knowing alphabets and numbers. The children need to be emotionally prepared as well,” she said in a phone interview. Year One teachers may still have to adapt their teaching for pupils based on individual levels, Lok added.

She said that schools and the ministry must also be aware of the non-academic aspects that must be considered with younger children in school. “Dietary needs for children that young must be met so the quality of canteen food must be improved. School security must also be extra vigilant with more young children around.”

Pre-school access more important

Apart from curriculum review, Lok said what was more important was whether all children entering Standard One have access to pre-school.


Accessibility for pre-school education should be increased with the lowering of schooling age

Lok said many families could not afford pre-school. Government statistics in the Plan said pre-school enrolment currently stood at 67% for children aged 4+ to 5+. The goal is to increase this to 87% by 2012 and 92% by 2015 through the Permata programme which will be placed under the Education Ministry after the necessary laws are amended.

Lok and Chiam said making pre-school education more accessible was the right move in tandem with lowering the schooling age. This is already the practice in several developed and developing countries, they noted.

More options

Lok said starting school earlier was also beneficial in the long-run as students could enter the workforce sooner. She added that should students perform poorly in Form Five, they would also still have time to either re-sit the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) or pursue other options like vocational school or diploma courses.


Students can enter the workforce sooner

“Allowing children to start and go through the education process earlier leaves them some time left at the end to repair any academic shortfalls. If they leave the school system later, they may feel the pressure to start working without the chance to get better qualifications,” Lok said.

Chiam said she expected the lower schooling age to be made compulsory under the Education Act, which would have to be amended. Primary education is compulsory under the Act, which stipulates in Section 29 that a child must be six when he or she starts primary school.

Lok added that parents should not be given the option to choose when their child starts school. “There must be standardisation, or implementation will get messed up. There’s only a difference of about half a year if children were to start school at five plus.”

One million children

Education Ministry director-general Tan Sri Alimuddin Md Dom said implementation would involve about one million children in a single cohort. He told The Nut Graph that the ministry had not yet decided whether to launch the lower schooling age all at once or to roll it out in stages.

“We are looking at the logistics in terms of school infrastructure and teaching [personnel],” he said.

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9 Responses to “Starting school at age five: Should we?”

  1. curious says:

    Can we emulate the syllabus or system being employed in the US? I was just wondering whether is it applicable in Malaysia. Our education system should train students, especially young ones, from an early age how to think and reason critically.

  2. farha says:

    No, I don’t agree. The current curriculum at pre-school is somehow already academic in nature. There’s writing, reading, etc etc. Basic skills, one might argue. But some kids are already having a challenging time because they get HOMEWORK … and some parents even demand EXAMS at that age. They’re children, for God’s sake. How much more can they take? Whatever happened to play, learning through play, and enjoying their childhood? This insistence and haste to put them into thinking mode at five does not augur well.

  3. Sean says:

    I’d rather we didn’t. Our kids will have been at pre-school for 4-5 years by the time they qualify to go up to junior school. It’s 8:30am to 5pm, 5 days per week and they love it. It’s a fairly chaotic environment because of the age of the children, but the staff do a fantastic job of fitting in creative and rote-learning around sufficient play to keep them mostly on-side. They set homework. I ask my daughter if she’s going to do her homework and sometimes she does it. If she doesn’t want to, I don’t push her – since she was 2 years old she has been doing a longer ‘day in the office’ than I do. We went for our second annual parent-teacher day recently to hear the teachers’ opinions of our children and to collect our (older) daughter’s exam results. Her results weren’t all As, but she strikes me as a healthy, happy, bright kid who easily surpasses all of my requirements for a 4-year-old.

    The crude divisions that are present in compulsory-level education establishments don’t seem to be an issue at pre-school level, so I’m happy with the current age-6 start. If it were possible to keep school starting age as it is now, but extend the accessibility of pre-schools, that would certainly be the option I would prefer.

    We work on critical thinking at home. I shout “You must think critically” at my daughter and she yells back “Why?”.

  4. Ramesh Laxman says:

    Actually we should have implemented this [start at] 5 years rule 10 years ago. But we do not have harmony between educational facilities between the rural and urban areas. We have been focusing on building material wealth beyond our needs for at least some people. There are many countries we can learn from. But we refuse to do it. Do not worry about the ability of the child. They are young and can adjust to any situation. It is we adults who are afraid that they will become too clever and render all these one-eyed adults obsolete.

  5. Flyer168 says:


    Since 1969, the […] British Cambridge Education System had been “hijacked, modified towards mediocracy, abused & destroyed” to the level we are at, in 2010 with no solution in sight.

    Singapore has maintained that original education system structure since & have “enhanced” it to to be the “Best in SEA”…

    Raffles Institution, Singapore Polytechnic, Singapore University, Nan Yang University, etc have achieved universal standing relevant to the 21st Century demands & standards…

    You be the judge.


  6. Malini says:

    Unless there’s major overhaul of our education system, I say NO early school. With kindergarten’s overemphasis on academic achievement you’re killing a child’s love for learning, doing and playing. My son is 6 and doing well in kindy but hates going to kindy. In a recent Maths test, he lost 4 marks for spelling “eleven” wrongly. What kind of marking system is this? Instead, I find, he loves his swimming and music classes where learning takes place in a non-threatening environment with an exciting syllabus. No one is marking him for right &wrong answers but his progress is being recorded and weaknesses are worked on together with the teacher.

  7. aiyo says:

    Crazy idea. The child should be at play. Let them grow up first. Give the child a break. This is not good, it takes away the child in the child.

  8. LP says:

    About time we have our kids start at the age of 5 for Std 1. It’s really annoying when Malaysian students of ours go to US and UK to study, finding they are actually old folks and 1 year older than US/UK students starting their first year in university. Everyone starts school at age 5 in most developed nations, why should we be any different?

  9. born2reign says:

    The question is not whether to start school at five or six years old, but rather it is what is my child learning in school?

    I find that today’s students are not learning in school, instead need to repeat their education during tuition hours. Isn’t that like going to work and not completing work during working hours and have to take it home to finish it? So unproductive!

    Pre-schoolers should be building their character, such as kindness, honesty, civility, etc. Just look at our government servants and politicians, the very people who decide on education policies, how many have morals and honesty? Can you get a crook to teach children to be honest? No way!

    I don’t believe in the government deciding our education and future. The government should stay out of education and leave the syllables to educationists. There must be a independent committee to rank the schools in Malaysia, with the committee members made up of parents, academicians, counsellors, etc and no politicians.

    Children are not factory-manufactured robots, so why must they attend factory schools and be QC-ed by non-professionals? I can’t imagine what the PM’s wife is doing as a vice chancellor of a local university. My children are attending a home school centre, where pre-schoolers learn character building and creativity. Although they have their peers, children are allowed to learn at their own speed, different from their classmates.

    I say let the parents decide on their own children’s future.

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