New Zealand parliament is this week reading (for the final time, I think?) an education amendment bill which, basically, is looking to change the way children start school.
At the moment, every child starts at a different time - usually, straight after their 5th birthday. Legally, children can start at any time between their 5th and 6th birthdays (as early as their 5th birthday, but as late as their 6th birthday), but most kids start soon after turning 5. It's a tradition here, a sort of a milestone: turning 5 = going to school.
But now the parliament is looking to change that. They want to introduce a "cohort entry" where a bunch of kids start school at the same time.
To give you a bit of a background: in Nordic countries, for example, all kids start school on the same day of the year. In Estonia it has been traditionally 1st of September, give or take depending on what day of the week 1st of September falls on any given year. In Finland and Sweden and Norway the dates are, from what I remember, all a little different, but the idea is the same: all kids have their first day of school on the same day, together.
Now New Zealand is trying to implement something similar, but at a kind of a halfway-point: rather than making all kids start school on the same day, at the beginning of the school year, it wants to break the kids into groups who start together on the first day of each term.
So basically, instead of having kids "drip" into school, one by one, throughout the year, there is going to be a bunch of kids starting together in the beginning of term 1, then another group beginning of term 2, another in the beginning of term 3 and then the last group beginning of term 4.
And I haven't got a problem with that.
They are wanting to allow 4-year-olds to start school.
They are wanting to allow parents and caretakers to start their kids at school on the day that is the closest to their 5th birthday, which in some cases would mean kids as young as 4 years 10 months.
Now, to make it clear: it is not compulsory. Parents and caretakers can still "hold kids back" as long as until their 6th birthday, if need be. Going to school before 5 is not compulsory.
But I am still uncomfortable with the notion, and on quite a few levels.
The preschool in New Zealand costs money. There is partial government funding for up to 20 hours of care every week - and by partial funding I mean, the government subsidises the cost of a child's attendance by a set number of dollars each hour.
But there's a catch. If a preschool charges more per hour than the government gives funding for, then a parent ends up "topping it up" for each hour. And then if a child attends more than 20 hours a week, then a parent pays the full amount for every hour above 20.
Either way, parents usually win financially when their kids start school: school, though it also costs (yes, even fully public schools have what they call "voluntary donations" that parents are expected to pay each year, and the cost differs between each school), it usually costs less per year to have kids at school than it does to have kids at preschool.
And that's where I see a problem.
I can already see that there a kids who are put to school before they are actually ready for it, kids who do not yet have the attention span and the focus to sit still.
...and now there's an option to put them there even sooner.
In an ideal world, of course it wouldn't happen. Parents and caretakers would judge their kid's school-readiness aside from any other pressures they have in their lives, and they would start the child when the child is ready, whether that's on their 4 year 10 month "birthday", or their 6th birthday.
Whenever the child is ready.
But come on.
I would very much like to know what, exactly, is the reasoning behind this change from the people who've actually proposed it, because... I'm uncomfortable with it.
I hear that a lot of other people are, too.