It’s alright if you want to rush your child to school early in life. But Psychologists say it’s at your own risk
By GBENGA OGUNDARE
EXACTLY 6 pm on Monday, 18 September, 2015. Funke Daniels alighted from a commercial bike and hurried into the confine of God’s Time Montessorri School in Abule Odu, a surburb of the densely populated Egbeda in Lagos.
She emerged from the school ten minutes later. But she was not alone this time around. In her company were two girls and a boy of about a year and half month old , all of them are her children.
Bolutife, the eldest girl is just 7 years old, but fast enough to have completed her kindergatten and nursery school, Funke told the Reporter.
“She started with the school when she was just 9 months, and now she is in Primary 4,’ the proud mother of three told the reporter.
Bolutife’s sister, Busayo, who will mark her five years in December has just graduated from the nursery class to begin her Primary classes this session, while Ayo, the little boy is in the playgroup, she narrates further.
Maybe not exactly an unusual testimony really. Low cost private schools in Lagos flaunt no less than 15 million pupils who have similar, if not more thrilling stories to tell.
That’s why a large number of them go by diverse inspirational names meant to lure the hearts of any ambitious parent: Success Academy. Christ the Saviour Schools. Refine Mission Nursery/Primary School, Prime Cornerstone Montessori Schools. And the list is endless. But they all do the same thing: to keep children from 3-months-old babbling away in their classrooms for at least eight hours a day while their parents eke a living elsewhere in the heart of Lagos.
That’s if both parents are engaged formally for longer hours than necessary really and not because they just want to keep their children in school because it’s the new trend. All the same, Psychologists say early childcare education like the one Funke Daniels exposes her children provides them the opportunity to interact with teachers and play with their peers so that they are able to develop good language skills, numeracy skills and social habits for effective communication needed now and in later stages of life.
That sounds like a perfect excuse for many mothers like Funke Daniels to rush their children to school really. So it doesn’t matter to her if she ruptures her children’s sleep by 5am everyday so she could get them ready for school before 6.30am when she begins her usual journey to Victoria Island where she works.
“They are used to it now, although Ayo likes to protest once in a while,’ she said, ‘but what I normally do is to get them ready before 6.30am, feed the two girls and breastfeed my last born before leaving them in the care of my young niece who will now hand them over to the school bus by 7.30am before she goes to her own school.”
Pick up time is not negotiable either. The earliest time she can come pick them up is 6pm when they would have gone through their extra coaching.
“Bolutife and Busayo will do extra lessons after normal school hours until 6pm while their brother plays with other children until I come to pick them up,’ she said.
Ask Dr. Olumide Ige of the Early Childhood Education Department at the University of Lagos what he feels about the routine, and then you are likely to get volumes of lamentations. For the Child Psychologist, 6 years, or at the earliest 5 should be the appropriate age before a child begins schooling. For several reasons though. Exposing children to the rigours, the stress, and the methodologies associated with formal schooling too early in life, the university don explains, robs children of the opportunity to go through the natural process of maturation and portends serious implications for them at later ages.
“The average child should be developmentally ready for formal schooling between age 5 and 7… Preschool education is not regarded as formal education; children are expected to have their holistic development fostered as they learn through play, and not some rigorous pedagogy,’ Dr. Ige said.
Well, as long as her two sons can chat with their peers in some form of English Language, however bad, Fausat Jimoh care less if her two sonsboth five and three years old respectivelyare developmentally ready as recommended by Dr. Ige or if Our Leaders Academy in Baruwa where she registers them operates in a wooden structure situated under a high tension powerline with classrooms that are everything but stimulating for learning.
“When I dey five years, I can’t speak English, but my son Khalid can speak English now and can even read his English book without looking at it,’ Fausat boasted.
‘Even his brother who is three years can speak English and read ABC and 123,’ she told this newspaper.
Yet Our Leaders Academy can only boast of four small classrooms with no louvers on their windows. In one of the classes partitioned with plywoods, four tiny tots crawled about the bare floor with no plastic toys or computer games to aid their learning, except for a tattered, dusty rug for them to roll on and bump against one another.
on a mattress set beside one of the bare windows, are also two twins who won’t be picked up until sometimes around 6pm, according to the nanny.
“Their mother’s shop is around Iyana-Ipaja but she says she prefers to bring them to school here since some of her friends’ children are also here,’ the nany told this newspaper.
Move over the pressure of earning a living by both parents these days. Every parents seem to be in a hurry to start their children in school early more than ever. And for Dr. Ige, that is not peculiar to Nigeria alone. The average society, he explained, is success oriented and parents are in competition with one another.
Well, except that school owners, many of whom have little or no knowledge of early childhood education, child psychology or development, now cash in on these parents’ egotistic desires to turn preschool education into a theatre of the “early performances”.
Olumide Aina, a banker, could not agree any less. He narrates how his 5-year-old son who attends Prime Cornerstone Montessori School in Egbeda would read his English Language textbook so fluidly without being able to identify exactly the paragraph he is reading from.
“Sometimes I feel they are just belabouring their brains unnecessarily. But when you complain, the mother will always have a counter-opinion, and you know you can’t win them in this argument,otherwise they tell you it’s because you don’t want to invest on your children’ Aina moans.
You may as well forget the national policy on education and its many provisions that are only working well on paper. These days especially in private schools, a 6-year-old can learn how to cram a whole textbook without being able to spell a single word of what he is reading, there is early math, there is early computers, there is early sports.
“Now my son’s school has introduced music into the whole arrangement. They ask us to pay additional N10,000 aside from the school fees if we want him to learn how to play a music instrument,’Aina told this newspaper.
Aina can gripe all he wants. Most mothers hardly lament this trend. Opeyemi Asaye says she gladly bought an expensive Aso-Oke attire last term when her 5-year-old daughter was made the Queen in the school’s end-of-the-year beauty contest.
“Children are expected to put up a performance to please the parents. This reflects the parents’ need, not many care about what the children need,’ Ige said.
A Dire Cost
Psychologists say When children are hurried into roles they are not ready for, such as exposing them to forceful early education, the implication is that the children developmental trajectory is being punctuated.
This is because development describes changes that the individual child goes through from dependency to increased autonomy. These changes occur in sequences; they are not learnt- that is what is called maturation.
“Many of the things we force children to do before they are mature affects their developmental trajectory. In simple terms, children will likely not develop well mentally, physically, socially and emotionally, if we tamper with their development and maturation processes,’ Dr. Ige explained.
Specific psychological implications include childhood truancy, low self-concept and self-esteem, attachment disorders, burnout, childhood depression, as well as apathetic, self-deprecatory and unmotivated feelings among others.
“These children are more likely to grow up as adults who had lost their bearing during childhood, and therefore would not be able to function effectively in the society.”
As if that is not enough a trauma, health experts also say that early school for a child has its own health perils.
Dr. Ajibola Williams, a Paediatric Surgeon, says cases of children having health issues such as headaches, stomach ache, body aches, sleeplessness, eating disorders among others are ramping up.
“These are some chronic symptoms associated with stress we sometimes put our children through in the name of early school.”
For a largely unregulated sector constantly being spurred by an ever increasing crowd of ambitious parents ,a relentless advocacy campaigns might just be all that is needed to save the future.