ByLecturer in Arts and early years education, The University of Queensland
A recent surge in private companies offering “skill and drill” school-readiness programs has been likened to “kindy boot camps” by the media.
These programs typically run for one hour a week (with fees in the range of A$40 an hour) for small groups of around five children aged between two and five.
The programs are often housed within companies that also offer tutoring to school-age children. They are not regulated or accredited, as child care, preschool and kindergarten full-time programs are.
Parents with disposable incomes seem to be seeking out these add-on programs to ease their anxieties about their child’s future academic achievement and competitive entry into elite schools.
Flaws in these programs
These school-readiness programs generally have four main flaws.
Run by untrained teachers
Commercial school-readiness programs are largely run by people without early childhood teaching qualifications. Because they are not regulated, there are no qualification requirements.
There is no guarantee that the program will be delivered by someone who is a qualified teacher or has any training. They may just have had some training in their scripted program.
Some programs are facilitated by primary-trained teachers. However, such degrees are largely based on curriculum content, whereas early childhood qualifications specialise in the nuanced development, pedagogy, curricula, environments and relationships of early childhood to provide customised educational programs to meet individual children’s needs.
Attending a commercial school-readiness program is effectively like having someone with a first-aid certificate (granted they have had some training in the prescriptive program) treat your child’s long-term health-care needs instead of a doctor.
All licensed early childhood education and care services in Australia must have access to, or employ, at least one qualified full-time early childhood teacher (depending on child numbers). Funded kindergarten programs must be planned and delivered by a qualified early childhood teacher.
Internationally, there is strong evidence that higher specialised early childhood qualifications raise the quality of interaction and pedagogy in early childhood education and care. This enhances student educational outcomes.
‘Readiness’ places pressure on children
The idea of “school readiness” places all the pressure on the child – who at this point is around four or five years old. But how do you really know when a child is ready?
Commercial school-readiness programs are designed to accelerate maturation. They do this through rote-learning-style drills to teach the alphabet, phonemes (letter sounds) and numbers.
In 1925, it was proposed that children matured based on internal predetermined timing of growth and maturation. Since then many developmental psychologists and learning theorists have argued and demonstrated that children’s growth and development are influenced by a number of factors. These include relationships, family resources and experiences, neighbourhood, community resources and responsive early childhood programs provided by qualified early childhood teachers.
Sole focus on literacy and numeracy
Commercial school-readiness programs are largely focused on learning literacy and numeracy. For example, in the Keep Learning program they learn blends through basal readers and worksheets. This is simply focusing on the alphabetic code (knowing the letters and their corresponding sounds).