Palmer refers to scientific discoveries about human brain development. The quality and quantity of stimulation that a child receives in the first six years of his life will play a huge factor in determining his mental capabilities ... for the rest of his life.
This has got to do with the actual physical growth of the brain (neurons, dendrites, synapses and so on) which is influenced by the external stimulation. Past the age of six, the brain has done most of its growing, and the possibility of further huge gains in mental processing capabilities become much more limited.
Palmer therefore argues for the Singapore government to place more emphasis on pre-school education.
The topic is close to my heart because I am a daddy of two young children. In fact, ever since I became a father, child development and psychology has become one of my pet topics.
The scientific discoveries are nothing new, and are furthermore a continual work-in-progress. Gaps and unknowns are still being researched. But overall it is fair to say that the first six years of the child's life really matter a lot, in determining his ultimate capabilities.
Palmer's post on P65 attracted a worried comment from one concerned citizen. An excerpt:
Dear Mr Palmer,I absolutely empathise with the sentiments of the above post. However, I also absolutely disagree with its substance. Let me explain.
I feel strongly that putting more emphasis on pre-school education will be detrimental to our nation. Yes, perhaps children do benefit from an early education, but I think that you are neglecting several consequences that will arise should your suggestions be put in place. First and foremost, Singapore is a competitive culture. We have seen this time and again when parents pressure their children to get into a good school by attaining high scores in their exams. This pressure starts at the Primary level, where parents already compete with each other to get their children into prestigious schools. Put more emphasis on pre-school education, and you will see the pressure on children jump to an all time high .....
It is a tragedy that Singaporean school children are so pressured already; but it is a necessary evil. Already, children commit suicide because of stress-related problems. Let us not impose these pressures on the young until they are truly ready. Please, let children be children. No good can come, in my humble opinion, of turning them into competitive academic machines.
What should a quality preschool education be like? If you go by what the scientific discoveries tell you, it should be fun. It should be enjoyable. Kids should love it.
If they don't, then it isn't a quality education. Why? Because little children learn through play. That's how you engage their higher cognitive centres. If they feel stressed or frightened, that means they're operating from the reptilian cortex (the part of the brain that generates the "fight-or-flight" response to danger). And that's simply not where we need the brain growth to be.
In other words, if your little kids feel stressed in class, then the teacher sucks. And your kids aren't getting a quality preschool education. Quality learning only happens when the kids are having fun.
That's why in a quality preschool, you expect no homework. Your kids want to go to school. The classroom has toys, posters, art materials, musical instruments - and plenty of space for the kids to run around. The kids learn not by sitting down and memorising, but through drama, games, singing, dancing, art & craft, group play and hands-on experiments. The teachers are caring, humorous and smiling.
Lessons are designed to engage several of the multiple intelligences at a time. The environment is not competitive, because nothing is graded, nothing is given an A or B or F. Every lesson is designed to be its own reward. Everything should be fun.
So I hope that the Singapore government will promote quality preschool education. We need many, many more trained preschool teachers who know what quality is all about. Precisely because Singapore is already too competitive. We need to stop the current education system from destroying our little kids' natural curiosity and love for learning. We want things to be fun.
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