You may have seen recently that the Tasmanian Government has proposed lowering the starting age of schooling (from 2021) to four and a half years as well as opening up the possibility for parents to enrol students as young as 3 and a half (from 2020). Predictably this announcement has divided community opinion with a range of concerns raised from toileting to formal learning.
While we don’t have much detail yet on what this will look like, the rationale is certainly an honest attempt at providing access to quality early learning especially for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. In Australia, as in other western countries, the range of options for parents is limited, often costly and ranges from day-care to ‘Einstein’ academies. The idea is to give all students a solid start rather than playing progressive catch up each school year. I applaud that.
Last year my comments on extending the early learning years sparked debate because we think that sending a 3 and a half year old to ‘school’ is about inflicting the current (rigid, one size fits all) experience of schooling on them. Unfortunately this limits the discussion around what possibilities exist for those important early years.
Lowering the school age challenges us to look beyond the here and now. Life-long learning is not a short-term endeavour, it has to be viewed as long-term. This means schooling has to operate along a continuum in which play-based learning is at one end and inquiry based learning is at the other. The continuum of schooling requires a rethink at every level from the nature of the curriculum and pedagogy to the built environment.
We also need to rethink the minimum qualifications and salaries of early childhood teachers. At present, you do not have to be a trained teacher to work in an early learning setting. Formal qualifications are needed.
Teacher Tim Walker wrote a great piece in the Atlantic last year on what the rest of us can learn from Finland’s approach to the early years of learning. No surprise that ‘joy’ is emphasised in the country’s pre-primary curriculum as well as the declaration that play is actually an efficient way of learning for children.
This leaves us to ask an obvious question – why doesn’t play-based learning and joy extend beyond the early years?