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3, 4 or 5? What is the right age?

Three-year-olds too young for school, say parents, writes Anuradha Mukherjee.

india Updated: Feb 12, 2007 17:55 IST

What is the right age for a child to join school? Is it three years, as per the Delhi High Court’s interim order? Or four, as per the norms followed for the last several years? Or five, as under the Delhi School Education Act? This year, it appears both three- and four-year-olds are set to share the same classroom, if the age cut-off is not rolled back. As of now, parents and educationists across the city are expecting a rollback.

Parents say the situation is back to square one, since 4+ children will be applying for Prep/KG next year. They will be required to write a test and go through an interview. “The High Court was trying to prevent 4+ children from undergoing the trauma of interviews during nursery class admissions and hence, the Ganguly Committee was set up. Now, 4+ children will be made to write tests as the court’s “no interview” directive only pertains to nursery,” said Meeta Vermani, a parent.

A child yawns as he sits on the back of rickshaw during his journey to school to New Delhi. (Photo: Findlay Kember/AFP)  

Schools will also have to contend with crowded classrooms. “With both threeand four-year-olds in the same class, the teacher-student ratio will get affected. Ideally, in a nursery class, you should not have more than 15 children per teacher. At that age, they may not be able to cope in a class of 50. Three-year-olds do not have the adequate co-ordination to even hold a pencil,” says SRF Foundation Chairperson Manju Bharat Ram. SRF Foundation runs the Shriram Schools.

Vermani, a mother of twin boys, says it is cruel to send children as young as three to school.

“They are bottle-fed. They are barely able to speak. They are too young to board a schoolbus. I do not think they will even be able to tell me what happens at school. Only parents will be able to understand this concern,” she says.

Vermani and many of her friends missed the admission process this year because they did not expect a rollback in the age cut-off.

“What is this decision based on? Have international standards been considered; have educationists been consulted?” asks Vermani.

In foreign countries, children normally do not start school before they turn six. England is among the few exceptions where children start schooling at five.

A debate on the right age has been raging there for the last nine years. In India, the NCERT, too, has been working on early age education. “In fact, a focus group paper, prepared by the NCERT in 2005, came down heavily on the fact that our curriculum does not involve early childhood care and education,” said Anju Khanna, who is part of the NCERT’s Early Childhood Curriculum group.

Khanna says that no child younger than 6 should be sent to school. “Before six, it is not about putting the child in a class of 30-50 and making him learn to read and write. It is about teaching the child self-sufficiency, how to use his hands, tie shoe laces, change his clothes himself. He learns so much in terms of social skills. Even in the US, children start school as late as six or seven,” says Khanna.

So what can be the repercussions on a child if he starts too early? Experts say too much pressure on studies can actually create dwarf personalities. “The Waldorf Method of education, which is in practice in Germany and being adopted in a major way in Japan, speaks exactly about this phenomenon. No child starts school there before six,” says Khanna.

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First Published: Feb 12, 2007 17:55 IST