While schools across Maharashtra will follow a uniform age limit to admit children to pre-schools and primary from the next academic year, experts are still divided over the right age for a child to go to school. They said there should be separate age limits even for admissions to nursery and playgroup.
According to the state government directive issued on January 21, the age limit will be implemented from 2016-17 so that by 2019-20, only children above six years will be eligible for admissions to Class 1. Only children over three years will be admitted to both playgroup and nursery.
“Three years is the right age for admission to nursery, but children should be sent to playgroups or mother-toddler programmes before that,” said Reeta Sonavat, head, department of human development, SNDT Women’s University, Marine Lines and executive director, Early Childhood Association (ECA), a pre-school think-tank.
The idea would be to acclimatise them to a school-like environment. “At two-years-and-eight months, children can attend mother-toddler programmes for at least an hour every day. This is important as it will help them interact with other children,” she said.
However, the government resolution (GR) issued by the department does not mention the separate age limits to admit children to pre-school and nursery. “The age-limits were set keeping in mind the Right to Education Act, which states that children should be in Class 1 by six years,” said Swati Popat Vats, president, Podar Education Network and ECA.
The GR has also not separated formal instruction such as reading and writing from informal instruction, which includes play-based methods. This is contradictory to the National Early Childhood and Care (ECCE) policy, drafted on September 27, 2013, by the ministry of women and child development, which states that formal instruction should start by four years.
“Unlike the GR, the ECCE policy does not state that children below three should not go to early childhood care centres,” said Vats. “These centres help children get set for formal instruction.”
Some school principals and psychiatrists said the age limit put forth by the government will help prevent parents from pushing children to school at an early age.
Dr Harish Shetty, psychiatrist, said, “Working parents admit toddlers in to playschools even before they are ready. The GR will help prevent this.”
“If a child is pushed into a school-like environment at an early age, they lose out on the joys of being a child,” said Father Francis Swamy, chairman of the Jesuit Board of Education. Swamy added that other states such as Gujarat and Delhi have also adopted similar age limits.