How soon is too soon for a child to start learning formally? Heads of high schools and preschools sought an answer to this critical question at a panel discussion on Saturday.
A daylong conference on Crossing the Line organised by the Early Childhood Association, in association with The Telegraph, for early childhood educators, parents and mentors included a discussion on Transition from Preschool to High School.
Efforts to make a child ready for school and bringing forward the learning create stress, the panelists said at Bengal Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
“The pressure of trying to make the child ready for school creates an environment of stress from Day 1 and instils fear for school in the child. Why are we trying to bring on things before he or she can take it in?” asked Rupkatha Sarkar, the principal of La Martiniere for Girls.
Sarkar said the child should not be taught anything but be allowed to express himself or herself. “Just be a friend to that little girl or boy who comes to you. Don’t teach them anything. Help them to listen to music, help them to play, help them to enjoy nature,” she said.
But parents, in their anxiety to admit their children to a particular school, often end up creating stress for the young ones. That anxiety often comes across when parents want to know from preschool teachers not what the child is doing in school or if he or she is enjoying but whether s/he is “ready for high school”, teachers said.
Few high school seats and the fact that not all who apply can be taken in builds up the pressure for parents, early educators said.
“What are the criteria for rejecting a child? Parents are worried about rejection and that is why they are anxious. The reason is that schools are few. If more good schools come up, they can fulfil this need of anxious parents,” said Paramita Biswas, founder, Association Montessori Internationale.
But teachers agreed that parents were often “hyper” about getting their child admitted to a particular school and they had questions like whether the playschool had a tie-up with a high school or whether there was a syllabus for a particular school.
“Children should only be playing and having a good time in preschool. It should be an extension of home. The preschools need to make children cross the midline and help them attain skills they need to go to high school,” said Suman Sood, the director of Mongrace Montessori House and chief territory mentor of Early Childhood Association.
The moderator of the panel discussion, radio host Jimmy Tangree, said parents needed to be educated about the effects of pressure.
“The stress percolates down to the child as well. If a fear or anxiety is instilled in the child, it will remain for a long time. The body language of parents and non-verbal communication is also important for the child to be relaxed,” said Shamik Ghosh, a paediatrician.
Ghosh said the education system was geared towards the best student in class or the fastest sprinter. “The education system focusses on how much a child can achieve at a certain developmental age rather than age appropriate milestones,” said the president of the New Kolkata Academy of Paediatricians.
Ranjan Mitter, the principal of Future Foundation School, talked about value education in the early years.
Another high school head said formal schools were now a social platform. “A school is less about learning new things in terms of knowledge and more about being able to socialise, learning life skills, associating and communicating with people. This is important because there are more nuclear families and kids need to learn social skills,” said Satabdi Bhattacharjee, the principal of The Newtown School.