THE age for sending children to start school has all along been when they have reached the ages of seven or eight years old.
guest column: REINFORD KHUMALO
This has been tested and has been found to be working because past and present generations of literate and properly educated people around are the product of the practice.
Some practical measure of ascertaining that the child had reached an age of entry into the first grade had been to ask the child to lift up their right arm and cross it over the top centre of their head for them to touch their left upper part of the ear with the tips of the longest finger.
Should the child successfully achieve that, it was a sign that the child had attained an age for school entry.
Their arm was long enough to show that they had grown sufficiently to start school.
If the fingers could not touch the upper part of the ear, the child was deemed still too young to be admitted into school.
This rule of thumb worked fairly well, particularly in situations when birth certificates were not readily available to prove a child’s age.
This practice, however, has been replaced by the use of birth certificates to prove a child’s authentic age for entry into the first grade.
The age from zero to six of a child is one at which they need parental care and learn extensively and intensively from the mother.
It is at this age that what a child sees and learns is not easily forgotten.
They, therefore, need to be exposed more to the parents — the nucleus family, before they can be exposed to the larger groupings of society or outside the home for teaching and nurturing.
This enables the child to develop proper relationships with the parents and closest members of the family.
This also develops the child’s close attachment to the parents and the members of the nucleus family.
The child receives an identity; she gets to know who she is, where she comes from and where she belongs. This is important in human development.
The point I am getting at here is that there is a new policy and a development from the Primary Education ministry called early childhood development (ECD), that requires children to be taken to school at an age as early as four.
What bothers me most about this practice is that it is a requirement and not an option.
This policy, therefore, does not give parents who would like to train and mould the characters of their children by themselves at home an option.
By being thrown out to mingle with other children at the ECD centres at an early age not only is the physical and mental health of these children damaged, but also the moral aspect of it.
They are required to meet with children who could be coarse and rough, who lie, swear, steal, deceive and delight in imparting such evil traits to those younger than themselves because moral virtue cannot be guaranteed from children who come from different homes.
The zero to six age group is very vulnerable to adopting the vices brought about by the other young ones.
The effects of these unwanted behaviours are not readily detectable. They are likely to show after some years in the lives of those affected.
It is my opinion based on general observation that prevalent crime among some of the youth today could be attributable to the divorce of the training of the young from that of their mothers or biological parents to that of maids.
Children are surrendered to maids and/or early childhood centres at too early an age.
We live in an age when there are more working mothers than ever before. Children get their values from anywhere and from anybody.
I, therefore, see a problem in this ECD institutionalisation. The motive for this practice sounds more commercial than human development.
The other dubious aspect of this ECD policy in the Education ministry is its relevance to the economic situation in this country.
At the moment, the economy is depressed with cash shortages that inevitably result in acutely low disposable incomes.
The policy also elongates the period for the education bill for educating children by parents. All this comes at an unfavourable economic period.
The last point I would like to make about the likely adverse effects of sending children to school at too early an age is that some of these children are more likely to get tired of schooling at some stage in their lives and, therefore, exhibit marginal diminishing returns in their school performance.
Zimbabwe has had many education policies in the past since independence and such policies have come and gone.
One wonders if proper research is done before the implementation of such education policies. There was, firstly, education with production. It was shortlived.
There was also outcomes-based education patterned after the Australian model. It also saw a short period of its life.
All the above failures point to one and only thing: that policies have to be properly researched and their contextual application assessed before they are implemented.
That a policy has succeeded in one country does not mean it can succeed in another. The socio-economic context of the country, where a policy is to be implemented has to be taken into account.
The bottom line of this article is that requiring children to attend school at an early age, as it is now, is dangerous.
The best that can be done to remedy the damage could be to make the institutional ECD optional and not compulsory.
Let the parents, who want to train their zero to six age groups, do it themselves and then take their children to the first grade at the minimum age of seven.
Reinford Khumalo is a business and strategic management consultant. He has varied research interests, among which are human resources development, change management and leadership. He serves many institutions of higher learning and private organisatons in various ways. He can be contacted at +263 779 544 208 / +263 716 383 944 or at firstname.lastname@example.org