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Extending the ‘village'

Schools provide children with a community and a support system

Gulf News

Dubai: Two-year-olds being in school evokes a knee-jerk reaction in most of us who hear it. I, being a mother of three children and a psychologist also immediately want to protect my children from such ‘laws'— my instinct tells me that children should not have to endure the pressures of a formalised education system at such an early age. My first response is: no way. However, as I turn on my ‘high brain', and my ability to reason, I realise that my children did start attending nursery at the age of 18 months.

Living in Dubai, being a working mother, and being away from my extended family and community — the schools provided me and my children with a community and a support system that we would not have had if we weren't part of a school. This is similar to most Western countries with the disintegration of communities and families, where children no longer have ‘the village' to raise them. This puts a lot of pressure on the mother and father to be everything for the child, resulting in strained marriages, and overworked parents. It is also isolating for the children, who don't have much exposure to other children in fragmented communities.

If ‘school' is made available for two-year-olds then the families would have more support, less cost — assuming that the education is free — and a sense of community. In this way, we are creating the ‘village' to help raise the child.

I think we run into danger when we link schools with high marks or expect high academic achievement at that age. So yes, my children attended nurseries starting at the age of 18 months, but I made a conscious intention that formalised education did not mean pressure for them. My expectations for them to read Shakespeare and do alegbra were not going to kick in just yet. I personally believe that children should not have to attend ‘school' until they are seven. They should be learning through play, and be able to use their imaginations and creativity, rather than be subjected to sitting in their seats for hours at a time learning the alphabet. If parents do decide to put the academic pressures on that early, then sure, children may read earlier and develop a habit of being in school, but they will also most likely lose the love of learning along with it.

So school for two-year-olds could be a brilliant idea, as long as parents don't play out their competitiveness with their children. Instead of seeing the school as a place for rigorous curriculum, and gaining a competitive edge, I think they should be viewed as a place for their child to interact, develop friendships, learn social skills, and have a sense of belonging.

— The reader is a clinical psychologist and director of a community psychology clinic in Dubai

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