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Why six?

It’s the optimum age, when a child is best suited for formal education

School Entry Age: For the past two years, Kuenzang Dema had been requesting teachers to enroll her son into Baling primary school.  The last time she asked, teachers told her he was still too young for admission, because he would not turn six when the academic session starts.

“I wanted to enroll him early, so he could learn something,” the mother of two said. “That way, I could also spare more time for my farm work, because I’ll have only my younger son to babysit.”

Parents of children, who are nearing school age, across the country are in the same situation.  Some are resorting to manipulating their children’s birth certificates to get them into school before they are six.

Wangduecholing lower secondary school’s principal in Bumthang came across a few such certificates during the last admission session.  Similar practices have been reported in Mongar and Haa.

He said some parents, who had applied for their children’s admission in pre-primary, admitted to manipulating the health records.

“Some said they had to do that, because they had no one to look after their children when they go to work,” principal Phuntsho Tashi said.

That was not the case, when modern education system began in the country.  Parents hid their children from teachers and district officials, who visited the villages to recruit school age children.

A former teacher and education official, Jigme Zangpo, was enrolled in one such occasion.  His parents requested the officials to drop him, on the pretext that he was deaf and dumb, but to no avail.  He later completed school to serve in the education sector for almost three decades.

Jigme Zangpo said the “six years” rule was in place since the ‘70s, when he started his career as a teacher.  Then, children were asked to touch their left ear with the right hand over their head.

“It was a rudimentary measure, but it was necessary,” he said, adding that those children, who failed the test, were either too young or too small to attend school, which involved walking for hours to and from school.

Which is why the school age, he said, was fixed, mainly considering the physical abilities of children at that time. “Those younger than six years were unable to make the tiresome trip through dense forests, and across swollen streams in monsoon,” he said.  “Some parents had to camp near schools to look after students, sacrificing farm work at home.”

The Education Policy Guidelines and Instructions 2012 have the school starting age of a child as ‘six years before the start of the academic session’.  Educationists say this rule, which started with the advent of modern education in the late sixties, was relevant before, and holds even at present.

Education officials said a range of factors, such as infrastructure availability, teacher shortage, and the rate of enrollment, among others, are considered in determining the school age.

Curriculum officials said the pre-primary curriculum is age-appropriate, which means it is not suitable for children below six years, as they would not have acquired the required level of skills.

“The pre-primary curriculum is developed, keeping in mind the cognitive, language acquisition and other abilities associated with a six-year-old only,” curriculum specialist, Wangchuk Rabten, said.

Primary school teachers said they faced problems dealing with under age children.

“Teachers say that most of these students have learning difficulties,” Principal Phuntsho Tashi said. “These children are also often seen stressed and disinterested in lessons.”

This, Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD) officials said, is because the child is not yet ready for lessons in a formal environment.

“There are evidences from research that, if a child is enrolled in school early, then the individual would most likely develop learning difficulties at the later stage of schooling,” ECCD chief program officer, Kinley Gyaltshen, said.

He said parents should not rush their children early to school, since a child’s brain is in a developing stage, and needs care and guidance, which would not be possible in a classroom with large number of students.

“Children between three and five years, if possible, should be enrolled in one of the 133 ECCD centres across the country, where they can avail facilities for their holistic development,” he said.

But teachers observed that older students, despite being slow in understanding lessons in the beginning, improved their performance drastically as they progressed.

“There was a nine-year-old girl in pre-primary last year, who struggled in the first six months, but topped in the annual exams,” a teacher from Trashiyangtse lower secondary school, Sonam Deki, said.

Recent research in the United Kingdom also recommends that pupils should not start school before six to prevent ‘premature adultification’ of children.

Starting schooling before the age of six can put even brighter children off learning, according to a research by the Research Centre for Therapeutic Education at Roehampton University in the UK.

The school starting age in Finland, which today has the best education system in the world, is seven years.

But for Kuenzang and her son, being in school with other children from his village is more important than the long-term effects.

“We’d request the teachers to reconsider their decision,” Kuenzang said. “Otherwise, he’d lag behind other boys from our village.”

By Tshering Palden | Thimphu

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  1. Worthless to talk to the media.This system is implied only to those uneducated villagers.I am in total agreement with XXX in this regard.
    Education policy seems only for those simple parents otherwise rule makers do not follow themselves strictly.

  2. I don’t know what kind of Education Ministry we have in Bhutan. Learning has no age limit. It can start from right after birth till our death. Bhutanese students really need to start their education as early as three years-old. Because especially in the Universities and colleges of the United States, the students are all 16-18, except Bhutanese student who are 21-26. It is so embarrassing to tell our age to other students.
    May be the lawmaker should first explore the world because trying to be smart in law-making.

  3. It is ok to have age limit but sadly this law applies only to the poor. Teacher’s sons and daughters will have already enrolled in the schools even though their age don’t guarantee the seats.

  4. As stated by principal Phuntsho Tashi.“Some said they had to do that, because they had no one to look after their children when they go to work,” denotes that teachers are like baby sitters. Ofcourse to some extend they are and have to. This happens mostly with office goers couple and educated civil servants. Villagers once said they understand.

    The statement mentioned by the Education officials/Curriculum officers are all correct. But on top of it the underage children are very difficult for class management. It a hazard for teachers, parents and torture for the children.

    Children admitted earlier are likely to retard their intellectual development. Psychologically they are not ready for it. Parents please do not pressurize your children. Thanks.

  5. But first and foremost thing is Education officials themselves should follow strictly with the rule;We know all most all the teachers those who had kids teacher’s enjoy manipulating their child’s age to enroll their child before age 6 for being teachers . Why can’t other people who are not teachers can’t do that or don’t want to enroll their kids early to school to complete education early.

    If we carry out research it will be not shocking to find some under aged kids belong to teachers themselves. So why others can’t enjoy the same; should all become teachers so that they can enjoy to enroll their kids without having to fulfill the criteria

  6. i think people are applying this kinda rule onli in village side.. coz many of ma frens are much smaller than me but are in same batch. i dont knw how far its true bout their age.. specially teachers children join school very early… but y not other children..

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