Is Formal Education ‘Eroding’ Our Children’s Childhoods?

Formal Education toddlersMore than two hundred experts on childhood and child development wrote to the Daily Telegraph recently to express their concerns over the UK’s ‘Nappy Curriculum’ and the emphasis on structured learning from a young age that prevails in this country. They say that this level of teaching and learning is ‘eroding childhood’ and must stop in favour of purely play-based learning until children are at least six or seven years old, as is the norm in most of mainland Europe.

The ‘Nappy Curriculum’ is the term often given to the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) which is the statutory framework setting out what standards children age from birth to five years ‘should’ achieve and be taught, and how they should be cared for in terms of their development and learning. The EYFS has six areas of learning (such as communication and social skills) and there are a whopping 69 ‘learning goals’ that are used to monitor their progress – all before they start ‘proper’ school. It used to be, perhaps 15 or 20 years ago, that ‘Reception’ was used by only a few children, with most children staying at home until they started school in Year 1. Now, Reception (or ‘Lower Foundation’) is considered the norm, and indeed most children are already in the education system before then, attending formal nursery settings, often attached to the schools, being taught reading and writing and numeracy skills at age 2.

The experts who wrote in to the Telegraph say that this level of formalised education at such a young age is impacting on children’s well-being and their mental health, and that children are growing up too quickly with too much being expected of them too soon. This plus the never-ending barrage of commercialism from the media is forcing our children to grow up too quickly, denying them a proper childhood.

The experts want the system to be radically changed so that there is a purely play-based curriculum up to the age of six years, especially allowing for outdoor activities (which in turn will also combat the ‘couch potato culture’ and obesity that is rising every year).

According to Unicef UK, children in Britain have the worst level of well-being in the developed world, and the UK’s teenagers are amongst the worst in the world for suffering from distress and disaffection. The experts want less screen-based activities (TV, video games, laptops and PCs) and better quality childcare that isn’t measured by how much a child is taught via formal learning. They also want all advertising aimed at young children (i.e. all adverts that are currently shown in the breaks between cartoons and children’s programmes at the moment) to be banned.

The Children’s Minister, Sarah Teather, replied to the letter by saying, “We share these concerns – children should be allowed to be children. We are reforming the early years curriculum to simplify the number of targets children are assessed against at five. As a society, we all have a stake in making sure there is time for family life and children are free to cherish their childhoods.”