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.
“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.
“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.
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.
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.
“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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