Another new year. What is it they say; time flies when you’re getting old? And not that I feel old, exactly, rather, more conscious of my age. Now that some of my students were born the year I graduated high school and started using Macs, a little reflection is due.
This year in particular is set to be a different kind of experience. Hazel is off to school, and we’ll experience a whole new set of highs and lows there. Much as I’ve loved spending time with Hazel as she’s been growing up, I’ll enjoy being able to throw myself more completely into some projects. For the past few years, I’ve been working part time, spending 1-2 weekdays each week at home with her. It’s been mostly great, and with any luck I’ve laid some foundations for her to build on, but, as Tim Minchin can testify, it’s never all plain sailing.
In a few short weeks, though, she’s off to school. She was born in July, yet if she’d been born in June, this all would have happened last year. Though a child can start Year 1 early, they can’t start Prep early, and the government is entirely inflexible on this. Some kids aren’t ready for school, and they can be held back, but kids who are ready for school yet “too young” can’t go early. Most state governments in Australia have similar policies, and most of them actually require their kids to be even older than Queensland does.
The right way to do this is (to my mind) what New Zealand does. Every kid starts Reception (the local equivalent of Prep/Year 0) on their fifth birthday. If they start in the second half of the year, they’ll probably do another year of Reception, and if they start in the first half of the year, they probably won’t, but it’s the teacher’s call. Perfect. Judging kids by their capabilities and not by a number shouldn’t be a revolutionary concept.
The upshot of all of this is that Hazel lost most of her friends at the end of last year when they “graduated” and she didn’t. She’ll now be in a class with kids of widely varying abilities rather than in a class of kids mostly at the same level. And yes, I did write to the government on this, but they ignored almost everything in my letter, sending a form letter in return. Their main point was “we’ve got to draw the line somewhere”, ignoring the fact that their own rules for early Year 1 entry are, indeed, flexible. While I appreciate that they don’t want to create a “free childcare” system, I’m sure that they could find a way to address the needs of the kids more effectively while getting parents back into the workforce more quickly.
Finally, a note that other countries do things differently. The UK starts a full year earlier, for example. Hazel would have been in school after her 4th birthday, not when she’s 5 and a half. They also have an additional year longer at the end, roughly on the same level as our first year of university. Australia should, if it wants to compete internationally in the long term, should look to more education, earlier, not less education starting later.