Study impact of preschool education: Experts
Monday, 06 August 2012
Some educators say no tangible differences in learning abilities of children from different schools
SINGAPORE - In spite of recent concerns over the uneven quality of preschool education here, experts called for more local research on how this would affect a child's transition into primary school, before rushing into making any policy changes.
Preschool education has come under the spotlight in recent weeks after Lien Foundation released two studies - one showing that Singapore's preschool education ranked in the bottom half internationally, the other calling for sweeping and urgent reforms, including making preschool education free and partially nationalising the sector to level the playing field.
Currently, primary schools do not track which preschools students come from. Based on anecdotal experience, eight of 10 primary school educators TODAY spoke to all said they have not observed tangible differences between children from different preschools in terms of their learning abilities. Instead, parental support is the most crucial factor, they said.
South View Primary Principal Jenny Yeo felt that regardless of the quality of preschool education received, there are plenty of opportunities for pupils to catch up in primary school.
Principal of CHIJ (Kellock) Primary Clara Lim-Tan reiterated: "Any initial 'head-start' or 'edge' that may be attributed to the 'type and quality' of pre-school education a child receives may be blurred over time in primary school as other factors come into play." She cited the child's attitude and peer influence among other things.
However, Lien Foundation Chief Executive Lee Poh Wah was doubtful of the educators' observations. Mr Lee told TODAY: "If their hypothesis that the quality of preschool experience has little bearing on outcomes were true, it would suggest that quality is not dependent on structural factors such as the teacher-to-child ratio, level of teacher qualifications … This is hard to fathom."
Their observations "(deserve) to be tested and validated through a longitudinal study", including other factors like home environment and social class in the study, he said.
National Institute of Education early childhood expert Karuppiah Nirmala felt local research would help define what quality preschool education is. The findings would also address parents' concerns about whether preschools are preparing their children adequately for Primary 1, she added.
Dr Khoo Kim Choo, the former Executive Director of the NTUC Childcare Co-operative, noted that while international research has shown that the quality of preschool education has an impact on the child's later years, a local study would better reflect the situation here, in the context of Singapore's education system and preschool environment.
When asked whether it has done any study on the impact of preschool education on the performance of Primary 1 pupils - and if not, is it planning to conduct one - a Ministry of Education (MOE) spokesperson would only say that the ministry is "committed to improve the quality of preschool education".
She added: "We will continue to fine-tune our policies and programmes for the preschool sector taking into account feedback and research on the sector."
During the third week of January each year, a diagnostic test is administered to all Primary 1 students.
Over the past three years, 5 per cent of Primary 1 pupils have been identified as lacking in basic numeracy skills, while 10 per cent were identified as lacking in literacy skills, the MOE spokesperson said. These pupils will then be placed on learning support programmes.
The 10 educators TODAY spoke to said records show that pupils who attend such programmes usually did not attend preschool at all, or have learning disabilities.
Source: TODAY online, mediacorp