During last semester a few different lecturers mentioned that of the Nordic school model where children start school later (around 7) and catch up very quickly and even overtake those who started school earlier by the time they reach eleven or so. This was something I wanted to look into further but never got round to doing.
Last night I attended the Upstart Scotland Campaign debate organised by Brenda Keatch in the Dalhousie Building at the University of Dundee. There was fantastic turn out with a host of different people from different professions there including student teachers, lecturers, health visitors, child minders and parents. Brenda said that she had originally anticipated around 40 people attending yet there were over three hundred tickets requested so the event location had to be changed three times! This did just show how interested people are in hearing more and supporting this campaign.
So what is Upstart Scotland?
“Upstart Scotland is campaigning to have the principles of our Curriculum for Excellence transformed into practice by introducing a kindergarten stage for three-to-seven year-olds based on the Nordic model. This is influenced by research that indicates there is no educational advantage to an early start to formal education and that this may in fact causes social, emotional and mental health problems for many children. The emphasis of a kindergarten stage is to provide children with opportunities to play (with a strong emphasis on outdoor play)”.
I really value the power and significance of play as it stimulates qualities such as social, cognitive and personal qualities including communication, problem solving and self-regulation. All of these especially self-regulation make the difference for teachers dealing with behaviour issues. It makes sense to think that a 4 or 5 year old who does not have the ability to “learn” how to read or write will be unable to self-regulate their emotions which will have a knock on effect to confidence, self-esteem etc.
However, a friend and I had the discussion that what everyone else who has started school at the age of 4 or 5 who are all successful curious adults? … Technology. Technology has transformed everyone’s lives enormously and especially in play. This was a huge talking point in last night’s debate and unfortunately, play for some children mostly includes sedentary TV screens and tablets. Children are not getting the chance to experience play in the way that once was. The rate at which technology is developing is not going to slow or change but the fact is that humans are not developing at the same unprecedented rate is a problem.
The evidence is so clear and I agree that the Nordic model is better than ours. Finland is the near highest achieving country in both education and childhood well-being. The statistics (which unfortunately I don’t have where they are from as I just noted them down) are of school starting ages around the world:
- 4/5 year olds – 12%
- 6 year old – 66%
- 7 year olds – 22%
Delaying children starting to school would cause outrage for some people. Key speaker from last night, Dr Suzanne Zeedyk said that people are suspicious of play and think children are not learning from playing – that they are having fun. They could not be more wrong. They are building on the foundations for the future such as friendships, being inquisitive, imaginative and finding a sense of self.
There was also an emphasis of trying to slow down children’s childhoods. Life expectancy is getting longer and yet childhood is getting shorter. The word “tween” has been added to the dictionary to describe a child aged between 9-12 who is “no longer a little child, but not quite a teenager”. This has already been done and it won’t change so therefore I feel attitudes need to change to play.
I don’t believe the school age is something that will be raised any time soon in Scotland but creating awareness of the importance of play and outdoor play and the qualities that children learn through this is completely necessary for them to be able to learn effectively in school. Effective learning is what is most important and is what will ultimately bridge the attainment gap.
I realise I do sound like a walking, talking (blogging) advert for Upstart but I really feel quite passionate about it. There will be plenty scepticism about Upstart but as was discussed last night, once upon a time not all children went to school, females didn’t go to university, there were physical punishments as a norm in school so hopefully one day starting school at a later age will be a norm too. Upstart is a vision and a national movement and its purpose is to change the ethos of education.
I would urge you to have a look at the website and associated articles and please give me your thoughts. I look forward to hearing more about just how Upstart hope to bring about this change.