Despite fierce debate among scholars regarding the age at which children are ready to enter preschool, the issue remains contentious. This article based on an empirical footing argues that earlier preschool entry is better for children living in developing countries like India, as it can help to ‘level the playing field.’
ENTRY AGE: A LONG-DEBATED ISSUE
There is considerable debate regarding the age at which children are ready to enter preschool. However, scholars seem not to have been able to reach any conclusion regarding the link between children’s development and schooling age. There are two principal views on this issue that shape the age-of-entry debate both at the policy and practice level: First, entry with maturity, and, second, entry followed by maturity.
The first view is a maturational point of view that expects the child to be mature and ready for school. Reaching only a specific age does not ensure that a child is ready for school, nor does it guarantee a specific level of development. The conventional wisdom is that older children are more likely to have the necessary skills and maturity to succeed in school and therefore learn more in each grade (Cmic & Lamberty 1994; Krauerz 2005; Graue & DiPema 2000). Therefore, advocates of maturational view propose a delay in entrance to kindergarten for a child who is not ready, and such delay gives the child an extra year to become developmentally ready. This trend was described by the phrase “graying of kindergarten” (Bracey 1989), which is recently known as “redshirting” (Katz, 2000).
On the other hand, people holding the alternative view believe that the only determining factor for entry into kindergarten should be chronological age. This entry criterion is exogenous and less susceptible to cultural or social biases (Brent et al. 1996; Kagan, 1990; Stipek 2002). Besides, development is uneven and multidimensional, and thus, a threshold cannot be identified, as children’s level of development varies across different dimensions and children are not likely to achieve the level considered important for school success in all domains at the same time (Stipek 2002: 4).
Yet, very little is known in the context of developing countries, and whether the variation in the age of entry in preschool has any impact on children’s later development is still an open question. The authors took the initiative to explore the same debate in the Indian context. As children from developing countries like India face several challenges from the very beginning, therefore, it is utterly significant to examine whether early entry in preschool provides them with an edge.
DOES AGE OF ENTRY MATTER?
The answer in this context is yes, it matters, and it is evident form the study that the age of entry into preschool is utterly significant for children’s later development. Empirical evidence indicates that early entry into preschool may help children to acquire better cognitive and socio-emotional skills. The study has also found significant variation in children’s development depending on their socioeconomic background viz. parents’ level of education, their ethnic origin, etc. Considering the socioeconomic and cultural background of Indian society (as reflected within the household and parents characteristics), the results suggest that early entry into preschool has significant effects both on social and cognitive development of the child at least after a one-year completion of primary education. Therefore, the study advocates in favour of early preschool entry which has been referred by the authors as ‘Green-Shirting’.
Considering children from developing countries, where various forms of inequalities are already present, several differences may exist between children of lower socio-economic status and those of higher socio-economic status even before they enter preschool. Therefore, it is particularly necessary to provide children with a strong foundation from the very beginning so that these early disadvantages can be tackled.
Early childhood education and care provisions can be important intervention for children’s development. For example, the publicly provided preschool education in India, known as the ‘Anganwadi Centre’, which is the predominant type of preschool in India, represents an important and an effective initiative in ensuring both the social and cognitive development of children in the later stage of their life. Early entry into preschool and therefore, longer preschool experiences, can help to ‘level the field.’
 The study on which this article is based was carried out by the authors in India and is based on a primary data of 1,369 households. Ten different parameters were used to measure children’s development, which was further disentangled into cognitive and social development.
Bracey, G. (1989). Age and achievement. Phi Delta Kappan, 70(9): 732.
Brent, D., D. May & D. Kundert (1996) ‘The incidence of delayed school entry: A twelve-year review’, Early Education Development 7(2):121-135.
Cmic, K. & G. Larnberty (1994) ‘Reconsidering school readiness’, Early Education and Development 5(2): 91- 105.
Graue, E. & J. DiPerna (2000). Redshirting and early retention: Who gets the gift of time and what are its outcomes?. American Educational Research Journal, 37(2): 509-534.
Kagan, S. L. (1990). Readiness past, present and future: Shaping the agenda. Young Children 48(1): 48-53.
Katz, L. (2000). Academic redshirting and young children. ERIC. Washington, DC, Office of Education Research and Improvement.
Krauerz, K. (2005). Straddling early learning and early elementary school. Journal of the National Association for the Education of Young Children 64(3): 50-58.
Stipek, D. (2002). At what age should children enter kindergarten? A question for policy makers and parents. SRCD Social Policy Report 16(2): 3-16.
This blog article is part of a series related to the Development Dialogue 2018 Conference that was recently held at the ISS.
About the authors:
Dr. Saikat Ghosh has recently received his doctorate from the University of Bamberg, Germany. His research interest centres on poverty, education, inequality, and social policy analysis with particular focus on developing countries. Formerly, he has worked for the Bamberg Graduate School of Social Sciences (BAGSS), Germany, and UNU-WIDER, Helsinki. He also served the Government of West Bengal, India for six years between 2007 to 2013.
Dr. Subhasish Dey is an Associate Lecturer at the Economics Department of University of York, UK. He is an applied microecometrician working in the field of development and political economy. He completed his PhD in Economics from University of Manchester in 2016. His research interests include social protection programme, impact evaluation of social policies, electoral politics, affirmative action and routine immunisation. He served government of West Bengal for five years between 2003 and 2008 in education and Panchyat and rural development departments.