What two things do the following ten countries have in common?
Bulgaria, Croatia, Finland, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Lithuania, Poland, Russia, Serbia and Sweden.
- According to the latest Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), they all outperformed Australia in maths and science, (at the year four age level and the year eight age level).
- The compulsory school starting age for children in each of these countries is seven.
TIMSS shows that Australian students in year four were decidedly outperformed by students in twenty-one countries in maths and seventeen countries in science. Put simply, Australia’s academic performance has been in hibernation for the last twenty years, while other countries have been rapidly improving.
Given that this study was conducted in only forty-nine countries in year four and thirty-nine countries in year eight, Australia’s report card could conceivably be significantly worse.
So why does Australia maintain an emphasis on starting formal teaching and assessment at age five? Now the game changer is making preschool or prep compulsory. This can put four year olds into the rigours of an accountability based formal curriculum.
A study of data from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) across fifty-five countries demonstrated that the reading achievement of fifteen year olds showed no association with school entry age. That is to say that there is no benefit to exposing four, five and six year olds to a structured academic learning environment.
This is backed up by a New Zealand study comparing children who began formal literacy instruction at age five or age seven. Results showed that by the age of 11 there was no difference in reading ability level between the two groups. Unfortunately, the children who started formal learning at five developed less positive attitudes to reading, and showed poorer text comprehension than those children who had started later.
A study in the United States demonstrated that by the end of their sixth year in school, children whose pre-school model had been academically-directed achieved significantly lower marks in comparison to children who had attended child-initiated, play-based pre-school programmes.
So why does Australia maintain an emphasis on starting formal teaching and assessment at age five? Could it be that bean counters with no educational understanding have found that it is more economical to fund young children in schools, rather than paying parents day care and child minding costs. Schools are cheap baby sitters aren’t they?