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Should Schools Be More Flexible With Admission Age?
Conflicting views about whether Chinese schools should lower admission age have risen
 NO. 39 SEPTEMBER 27, 2018


In China, education authorities in most regions stipulate that only children who are at least 6 years old or above on August 31 of the new school year, which normally begins on September 1, will be admitted into primary school. This requirement is based on Article 11 of the Compulsory Education Law, which defines the compulsory schooling age as 6 years old and states that in places where conditions are not available, the age for a child to enter primary school could be postponed to 7 years old.

Most parents of the children disqualified by this policy, however, complain that it is unfair, as their children will have to stay in kindergarten for one more year than those who were lucky enough to be born before August 31 of the same year. As a result, in order for their children to be able to go to primary school with their peers, some parents go as far as falsifying their children's birth information. And some women even choose to have cesarean deliveries so that their children will be born before August 31.

Many argue that children's intelligence and ability to learn is not only decided by their age. Even at the same age, or at a younger age, some children show greater ability to learn than their peers. Thus, they suggest that children who are born after August 31 and before December 31 should also be given the chance to go to primary school if relevant tests qualify them. However, some say that the August 31 cut-off is the fairest method available at the moment.

Flexibility is good

Zhu Changjun (www.thecover.cn): What do we mean by compulsory education starting at 6 years old? Does it mean that on the one hand, those under 6 will be denied enrollment while on the other hand, this one-size-fits-all standard may result in a one-year difference in the time of enrollment for children whose birth dates differ by only one day?

Undoubtedly, some parents are extremely worried about their children lagging behind their peers by the one-year enrollment delay. Society, of course, should not encourage this distorted mentality of "the earlier the enrollment, the better for the children."

Some experts suggest delaying the cut-off date to December 31, or giving necessary tests to those whose birthday is close to the designated date. This is a flexible way to avoid some extreme cases where children who are almost exactly the same age are enrolled at vastly different times. In fact, some regions have already reduced the age threshold for primary school student enrollment. For example, Wuhu in east China's Anhui Province and Zhengzhou in central China's Henan Province have done so, justifying the feasibility of the measure.

To a certain extent, a flexible school entry age could involve more screening and identification, and ultimately more difficulties in education. However, from a social perspective, the reform would bring more boon than bane.

Si Hanhan (Changsha Evening News): The development of intelligence varies from one child to another, so the rigid rule of primary school enrollment only for those who are 6 years old by August 31 shuts the door on some children with the willingness to learn just because they are not age-eligible by the deadline. This measure is of course in some aspects straightforward and efficient, but it is not helpful for education based on a child's individual aptitude.

In contrast, some Western countries have a more flexible schooling age. Children in France and Australia, for example, enroll in school at 5 years old and above, while children in the United States enroll between 5 to 7 years old. Sichuan Province in southwest China has also stipulated that the enrollment age be from 6 to 7 years old.

Meanwhile, we must also prevent new problems from arising. It is always difficult to have a widely applicable enrollment deadline. Whether it is August 31 or December 31, there will always be children who are blocked out of the threshold, and there will always be parents who are not satisfied. Therefore, there should be thorough research to work out a mechanism for the maximum benefit of all.

Hu Yongjun (www.rednet.cn): With the birthday cut-off date rigidly fixed at August 31, there are many flaws in this admission system. Thus, we propose a flexible and more appropriate way of assessment of individual students instead of the current practice.

For this purpose, education authorities in different regions need to make new assessments of local education and living conditions as a basis for a reform on the age required for children to be admitted into primary school.

A flexible school enrollment age is more helpful for children's healthy growth in a modern society. Today, children are more mature than previous generations at the same age in terms of psychology and physique. Therefore, the old gauge to measure a child's level of maturity should also be changed. As long as tests show that children, within a certain age limit, are capable of going to primary school, they should be admitted.

Moreover, the age threshold should also be allowed to float based on local conditions. Regions differ from each other in economic and educational levels. It seems unfair to impose the same age threshold on students from different regions. As for relatively backward regions, the age scope should be expanded, while in developed regions, the age threshold should be decreased. It's harmful to a child if he or she goes to school too early or too late. Thus, a flexible age policy is essential to help children best adapt to school life.

Change is controversial

Chen Guangjiang (Jiaxing Daily): A flexible mechanism for admitting primary school students will be far from achieving the expected results or worse still, it may be counterproductive. There will also be a change in demand for admission after relaxing the school enrollment age, placing tremendous pressure on schools and education departments.

Picture this: Once the school enrollment age is lowered, most people will go for "the earlier the better" choice, resulting in more kids getting enrolled at about the same time, but not according to their own conditions. For instance, relaxing the current August 31 to December 31 timeframe is unlikely to reduce the cesarean section birth rate at all. Moreover, since the relaxation period is prolonged by four months, what about kids born one day after December 31?

The school admission age is closely related to the distribution of educational resources and will have a direct bearing on the growth of the next generation. So we should deal with such a far-reaching and influential issue more prudently. August 31 has been the admission age cut-off date in use for years; parents are long accustomed to it. Polls have shown that more than 70 percent of respondents voiced consent for this requirement. Maybe there is a better choice, but for the time being, we find the age of 6 to be the best. In order to adopt a more flexible mechanism, we should look at the issue in a more comprehensive way and in the long term. Otherwise, the good will may not work out well, and may even place a huge burden on children and trigger more worries. Perhaps, only those offering preschool training are happy now.

Jiang Debin (Sichuan Legal News): This rigid threshold seems to be unfair to children born around the August 31 deadline who are forced to wait for another year to be admitted into primary school, but it helps to ensure transparency and discourage manipulation. So generally speaking, it is a relatively fair plan. Let's envision a suitable prolonged enrollment age of maybe 10 days, one month, three months or half a year; this will bring more controversy. Parents will generally pick a date advantageous to their children, for example three months. By then, some others will argue for three months and one day. Then the debate will become endless and eventually get out of control. Additionally, the more relaxed the threshold, the more possibility of manipulation involved in seeking advantages.

At present, China's educational resources are not evenly distributed, and people generally have a sense of education anxiety. All or most parents hope that their children will get started earlier than their peers, as they believe if a person enrolls one year later, he or she may even miss some opportunities. To some extent, the schooling age has become a watershed. This kind of concept may appear reasonable, but in most cases, it is entirely the parents who are delusional and scaring themselves.

A child's growing up is a long process. Most children are ordinary people with the exception of a few geniuses. It is evident that for most children, going to school one year earlier or later will not result in any huge discrepancy. Parents, instead of being so eager to "get started earlier than others" had better shatter the illusion, rationally judge the admission age and chillax.

Copyedited by Rebeca Toledo

Comments to dingying@bjreview.com

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