Cinvy Anggriani, Marshall Benjamin & Vico A. Andreas
How old should a child be when he or she starts school? Education and child-development experts say that a range of factors must be considered and that the case of each child is different, but the government insists it has the answer: Seven years of age.
Last June, Education Minister Muhammad Nuh and Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali introduced a regulation on the minimum age for children to enrol in elementary school.
“The perfect age to enter elementary level is seven years old,” the regulation said. “State elementary schools will only accept students aged seven or older.”
This makes Indonesia something of an anomaly in Southeast Asia, according to Unesco’s Global Education Digest 2011, published late last year.
The report says that while Indonesian children begin their formal education at age seven, those in Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines start one year earlier.
Selviana Pardosi, an education and child development expert, says she believes the Indonesian approach in allowing students to start later makes sense.
“I think it is better for children to enter elementary school at the age of seven because at that age they are ready to interact with others,” she says.
Children at this age, she argues, are at the right stage to enter elementary school because they are ready emotionally, intellectually and socially to face the formal education system.
With a more stable and mature temperament than younger children, they are better prepared to accept and adapt to their new learning environment and social setting, Selviana says.
But those arguing for a younger enrolment age contend that seven years is simply too old.
“Children are developing faster than before,” says child counselor Suryani Sukowati.
“They have access to more facilities to improve their cognitive and psycho-motor skills, so making them wait until they’re seven isn’t really necessary.”
She says children should ideally start school as soon as they are considered ready, no matter what age that may be.
This is why pre-elementary schools are cropping up across the country. They allow parents the chance to give their kids a feel for the classroom environment as they wait to start elementary school.
“I think it’s better for children to go to school earlier, because they [get an opportunity] to improve and train their creativity and emotions,” Suryani adds.
She points out the differences between elementary and pre-elementary school are mostly in the teaching methods.
In pre-elementary school, the lessons are geared toward nurturing the children’s creativity, while in elementary school the classes are aimed at developing the children’s cognitive skills and tend to be more challenging.
Hence maturity, which is not necessarily linked to age, should be the factor determining when a child should be allowed to start school.
Doni, a father of two, agrees that children should be allowed to start learning according to their individual development, and not based on a government-stipulated minimum age.
“Just let them go to school when they’re ready and develop at their own pace,” he says. “Children can learn while they play, and it’s not a big deal for children to learn outside of the formal educational system.”
Ibnu Hamad, a spokesman for the Education Ministry, concedes that children are developing faster and may be ready for school before the dictated age.
“It’s not always ‘the sooner the better’ for entering elementary school, but nowadays because of significant developments in technology, it would be better for children younger than seven who are able to read, write and count to enter elementary level sooner,” he said.
He also has advice for parents seeking to bypass the government’s requirement.
“Because state schools won’t accept children under seven years old, it’s better for parents to enrol them in a private school,” he says.