Early School – Good Idea, or Not?

I was in England last week working with some schools there – a real mixed group, coed, girls’ and boys’ schools. While I was there a news item caught my attention. Someone in the UK has suggested that school start when children are 2 years old. I was flabbergasted.

If you have been paying attention to the news on education, you may have noticed that Finland has been publicized as having one of the finest educational systems in the world. At least, according to results from international educational assessments, students in Finland are at the top. If you want to read about that, I recommend a book by Amanda Ripley entitled The Smartest Kids in the World – And How They Got That Way. A most interesting read which compares the educational system in the United States to that of South Korea, Finland, and Poland through the eyes of American students who studied in those three countries.

In schools around the world, most students start school around 5 or 6. Finland, however, begins full-time school a bit later and their students are holding their own against students in the rest of the world.

bored boy photoMy real concern is for boys, of course. Research from England indicates that boys are less ready at the start of school than are girls. It is due, in part, to a slightly slower ability to acquire language skills, but also, little boys are slower to develop fine motor skills. Those are required for students to begin to do much of the work in school.

One study from England looked at children in grades 1 and 2. The focus of the study was to find out why boys got into trouble in class more often than did girls. The study discovered that girls and boys exhibited much the same behavior in class, but that boys were singled out by teachers more often. After carefully analyzing the interactions between students and teachers, the researchers concluded that the problem was due to a difference in language skills. When teachers confronted girls, the girls were easily able to respond to the teacher explaining why they did what they did.  When teachers confronted boys, the boys were less likely to respond or, at least, not to respond fully which the teachers believed indicated that the boys were guilty.  The girls could talk their way out of getting into trouble.

Many boys who are in school at 5 years-old are identified as being slow learners or as having attentional issues. The point is that these boys are simply normal boys and are not yet ready to engage in a formal learning situation. Yes, they can learn, but they will do so more successfully if the learning environment is more hands-on and provides situations where students can actively engage in the lesson. Putting boys in school at 2 is asking for trouble and the result will be more boys who decide that school is not for them.