This column was published in the Suns Newsapers in January 2016. Before putting structures into place for students of tender years, ensure basics. And DON’T take the fun and enjoyment out of the first years of schooling.
RUNNING DOES NOT COME FIRST
It seems that educational systems are continually being challenged on the subject of balance within the teaching and learning spectrum. The 2008 Melbourne Declaration on education was signed by all State and Territory Ministers of Education. The declaration’s preamble affirmed the importance of holistic education. Social, emotional and moral development of children were key elements of educational development. Academic development was not the sole educational focus.
There is a marked departure from this position. Children at increasingly younger ages, are being introduced to the academic world. A pilot program has introduced preschool children to a language other than English. This trial has been declared a success. It will be extended to other preschools in 2016. If successful, it could become Australia-wide from as early as 2017.
Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham said teaching pre-schoolers another language has set a new standard. More than 1700 Australian pre-schoolers have learnt Japanese, Indonesian, French, Mandarin Chinese and Arabic as part of the trial. Minister Birmingham said “There is currently an evaluation process occurring and I will wait for that to conclude before making a final decision but pending a positive recommendation from this review I have every intention of rolling out the Early Learning Languages Australia application across the country in 2017.”
Minister Birmingham said based on the success of this trial and as part of the Innovation and Science Agenda the Turnbull Government would commit $6 million to the development of a similar STEM-(Science, Technology, English, Maths) focused application.
“Knowing that around 75 per cent of the fastest-growing industries require STEM-related skills, we want to work with Australia’s youngest minds to ensure they develop an interest in those fields.
Birmingham justified this computer and tablet based approach to Early Learning. “The skills and opportunities those children participating in these programmes receive are a perfect example of the Innovation Agenda that is at the heart of the Turnbull Government’s vision for Australia’s future.” (Source: Media release 12 January 2016)
Developmentally, children have to crawl and walk before they can run. I believe we ought not disregard the Melbourne Declaration’s call for holistic development. Taking those who are little more than toddlers into early learning programs that quickly lead toward a point of pre-academic saturation is not wise. The developmental principles espoused in the Melbourne Declaration recognise and point toward the need for both character development and social competencies. Childhood occupies a few brief years and should be enjoyed. Forcing children into learning domains in a premature ‘high flying’ context can deny them the entitlement and joy of childhood.
Learning and understanding are important but it should all be in good time. Prematurely exposing children to learning before they have the maturity for conceptual understanding, could lead to disenchantment with education.