In most countries, the standard age for formal education enrollment is around four to five years old. It’s when children are starting to speak, read, and write. They’re more playful, expressive, and eager to explore. But many other countries like to believe otherwise.
However, there are few of them. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), only seven out of the 22 countries surveyed have data on enrollments of children below one year old. Some of the countries are Australia, Korea, and Spain. But people in more countries are open to enrolling children who are around one to three years old.
Singapore is among the countries that are eager to start sending children to school as early as the parents can. In fact, by the age of five, it’s highly unusual for a child not to be in school. According to the country’s Ministry for Social and Family Development, 90 percent of five- to six-year-old Singaporean children are in school. Apart from that, almost 99 percent of the children have preschool experience by the time they reach six years old.
There are many reasons why Singaporean parents and the government find the importance of enrolling children, especially in competitive international preschools. These are three of them.
Reading and Writing
Children start learning about language even as early as just a few months of age. They start recognizing signals and sounds and what they are associated with. But reading and writing are a different matter. According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children in the United States, children as young as two years old start to imitate the act of writing through their drawings and other markings. They seem gibberish to us as adults. But, for children, these markings indicate the early stages of their writing skills.
The best way to explore these skills is formal education. In the case of Singapore, formal education as early as children can is extremely beneficial. This is because of the multiple languages being spoken in the country. Some children grow up in Malay-, Tamil-, English- or Mandarin Chinese-speaking households. But they need to learn at least two of these languages to communicate better with fellow Singaporeans. And the school is a good place for that, where they can interact with children from different households.
Critical and Creative Thinking
According to Scholastic Corporation, children in preschool are in the perfect stage to develop their logic and problem-solving skills. They are starting to make sense of the world based on what they see and play with. And then, they take a step further by expressing their ideas through creative works. Yes, they may encounter some challenges in understanding. But, as adults, we can guide them. And we can do that by letting them play games and tinker with toys at school.
The great thing about honing young children’s logic and problem-solving skills is that we’re giving them a sense of autonomy over their own education. They are trying to make sense of the world at their own pace. Tharman Shanmugaratnam, the former Minister of Education of Singapore, understood this as well. He said that education’s goal is “to give students the room to exercise initiative and shape their own learning, [to become] interested and proactive agents in the learning process.”
If there’s one thing that young children can develop at school that they won’t develop in the same way at home, it’s their character. Being away from their parents for hours at a time can impact their character in ways that may surprise us. For one, it would definitely help in building their sense of independence. They will be more inclined to develop their own ideas and make decisions without looking up to their parents for validation.
According to Scholastic, preschool children will also develop politeness, empathy, sharing, and honesty — which are the roots of prosocial behavior. Because they are interacting with fellow children from different households, their horizons broaden. Much like reading and writing, one can never be too young to start developing qualities that would, essentially, make them a better person.
At the end of the day, it’s up to the parents whether they will enroll their children in preschools to start their formal education. But knowing the benefits that it would lead to would certainly help them as they decide. It would certainly help, too, if we remember that no one is too young to start gaining new knowledge and skills.