Amendments to the Law of Georgia on General Education were discussed at the plenary session of the Parliament of Georgia on 3 April 2014. The Ministry of Education and Science of Georgia proposed defining the age of six years as the minimal threshold for accepting a child at school. In respect to the abovementioned issue, the First Deputy Minister of Education and Science, Ketevan Natriashvili, declared:  “International recommendations and tendencies, as well as local experts and specialists, urge that the minimal age of a child should be six (or more) when starting the learning process.” According to Natriashvili, even two or three months are of vital importance at this age and provided that a child does not meet the age criteria before starting the learning process, he/she will have to get registered and start the process of elementary education in the next year.

FactCheck

took interest in the aforementioned recommendations and decided to research the issue.

In order to verify which experts and recommendations were meant by Ketevan Natriashvili, FactCheck

addressed the Ministry of Education and Science of Georgia with an official request to withdraw the relevant information. The response from the Ministry reports that while working on the project of the abovementioned draft bill, the Ministry of Education and Science considered the advice and recommendations of the following studies:

  • Study on Learning Problems among School Children Aged Five Years
  • Assessment Report on School Readiness
The Study on Learning Problems among School Children Aged Five Years

was conducted in 2012 by the Institute of Social Studies and Analysis at the request of the National Centre for Teacher Professional Development. The research aimed at identifying the difficulties associated with children starting general education at the age of five years and elaborating recommendations for overcoming the abovementioned problems.

The target group of the research consisted of first- and second-grade school teachers having experience of working with five-year olds, parents of elementary school students who sent their children to school at the age of five years, psychologists, paediatricians and education experts. The research deployed the focus group as its method. The following focus groups were conducted within the framework of the abovementioned study:

  • Parents who sent their children to school at the age of five years – three focus groups (in Tbilisi, Gori and Batumi)
  • Teachers teaching/taught five-year old school children – three focus groups (in Tbilisi, Gori and Batumi)
  • Two focus groups with experts consisting of psychologists, paediatricians and personnel involved with the education reform processes

The following tendencies were identified as a result of the study:

The main motivation for parents to send a five-year old to school is the intellectual readiness of the child. However, the research showed the influence of the following factors as well:  the poor system of pre-school education, a division of teachers as ‘good’ and ‘bad,’ the parents’ busy schedule, the influence of the behaviour of others, etc. Additionally, the level of parent awareness concerning the upbringing of a child is rather low and in the case of the informal threshold of the school age remaining at five years, parents will not be able to make a proper decision and overcome the problems connected with the learning process. Provided the Law on General Education remains unchanged, it will be necessary to take certain measures to increase the awareness of parents regarding a child’s upbringing.

The study also reports about the significant systemic barriers concerning the learning process of five-year olds. The majority of elementary school teachers are not sufficiently trained and there is a lack of willingness among those who are trained towards using different approaches for teaching five-year olds. This is caused not solely by the lack of the teachers’ motivation but also by the extensive number of children in classes, mixed classes and a limited infrastructure as well. In addition, the assessment of the readiness of a child for school education is also important for the proper management of the learning process at schools. The knowledge of a child’s background/history will enable elementary school teachers to better work in the right direction.

While discussing a child’s readiness for school education, psychologists, paediatricians and other experts focus upon the social, psycho-emotional and intellectual readiness alongside considering their academic skills as well. As a rule, five-year olds are far behind six-year olds in terms of these abovementioned indicators. Therefore, there is a need for reforms concerning education of children at the age of five years. In addition, there is difference between those children who attended kindergartens before going to school and those who never went to day care centres. Having never gone through pre-school education puts them in an unequal situation. Even a skilled child suffers from not having proper preparation, finds it difficult to cover the programme and, thus, loses motivation.

The abovementioned study reports that the educational system of Georgia is not well prepared for having five-year olds at schools. Their involvement in the learning process was followed by a number of problems. However, this does not necessarily mean that five-year old children cannot be taught; rather, it means that the education of children in this age group requires a different approach. Before any respective preparatory measures are taken, engaging five-year olds in the learning process is not recommended.

The other research pointed out by the Ministry of Education and Science of Georgia is the Assessment Report on School Readiness.

The study was conducted with the support of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) in 2011 and aimed at producing a nationwide assessment of the readiness of first-grade children for school education. The research comprised 1,500 first-graders and their parents from all Georgian-language public schools.

The study’s research questionnaire addressed the following areas:  healthcare and physical development, cognitive development and general knowledge, attitude towards learning, socio-emotional development and speech. The study deployed a quantitative research method. The 479 children interviewed within the study’s framework belonged to the age group of five years while 1,019 children were from the age group of six years. In terms of residence, respondents were divided as follows:  805 – from cities, 170 – from mountainous regions, 524 – from villages. In terms of gender, 524 were girls and 741 – boys. Among the interviewed children a total of 1,073 went to kindergarten prior to going to school while 426 did not attend day care centres.

The study draws the following conclusions:

A child’s health condition affects his/her readiness for school and development and so a timely immunisation against illnesses is recommended before sending him/her to school. Additionally, the introduction of a healthy lifestyle in a child’s life is also essential. The study reports that one-third of the children has problems with physical balance and coordination. The majority of children confuse directions (left, right, upwards, downwards) and so it is vital to include respective games in the pre-school educational curriculum targeting developing these areas.

Further, children in the study found it particularly difficult to demonstrate fine and visual motor skills (like drawing and writing) while this is directly connected with the development of speech and logical reasoning. Thus, pre-school and school facilities should pay enhanced attention to the development of these particular skills and, mainly, to drawing, modelling and writing skills. Also further, the development of the following functions should be supported as well:  lacing up shoes, putting on clothes, being able to button clothing and so on; in other words, all functions developing fine motor skills. Classification is of utter importance as well:  grouping similar objects, playing with construction sets, etc.

Based upon the research findings, counting and mathematical operations were accomplished by 76% of first-grade students. Including tasks based upon activities as well as visual materials in the curricula is also needed.

An analysis of the research findings revealed that one of the main difficulties for the five- to six-year old age groups is sound synthesis and analysis. On the other hand this is an absolute pre-requisite for children to learn how to read and write at school. Consequently, focusing upon the aforementioned issues and planning games and activities in a systematic manner that will enable the development of these skills is of further crucial importance.

In addition, the difference between five- and six-year olds was observed in accomplishing the following research tasks: counting, mathematics, operations, remembering texts and reproduction, analysis based upon visual materials, synthesis and generalisation. Since these skills are significant components for a child’s mental readiness, considering the capacity of five-year olds in the school curricula and preparing a methodological guidebook for teachers in respect to the specifics of teaching five-year old children is necessary.

Conclusion FactCheck analysed two studies referred to by the Ministry of Education and Science of Georgia while researching the issue of the school readiness of children at the age of five years. One of the studies (Study on Learning Problems among School Children Aged Five Years) did not recommend accepting children for school at the age of five years due to the lack of a relevant environment at general education facilities. The other study (Assessment Report on School Readiness)

focuses only upon the recommendations about including the capacity of five-year old children in the school curricula and preparing a methodological guidebook for teachers considering the specifics of teaching the children from this particular age group. None of the studies pointed out by the Ministry professes explicitly that a child must be six years old (or above).

Therefore, FactCheck concludes that Ketevan Natriashvili’s statement:  “International recommendations and tendencies, as well as local experts and specialists, urge that the minimal age of a child should be six (or more) when starting the learning process,” is HALF TRUE.
Originally published in The Financial, issue N. 20(400)

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