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P1 kids could use more help: Study

This story was first published in The Straits Times on June 27, 2013

PRIMARY schools can do more to help children feel more at ease when they start school, according to a pilot study.

The six-month study shows that Primary 1 pupils need a friendlier learning environment with some freedom to play, said the study's leader, Professor Marjory Ebbeck, director of the Seed Institute's Centre of Research and Best Practices.

Seed Institute, a unit of the National Trades Union Congress, runs diploma and degree courses on early childhood education.

These young ones also feel "constrained" as they quickly learn that lessons do not typically include fun and games, and they are required to sit still at desks.

Starting school is a major transition for these six- and seven- year-olds and Prof Ebbeck gave some suggestions on how to help children have a swift and happier adjustment.

Have more bridging and "exchange" programmes for pre- schoolers to visit primary schools, she suggested in an interview with The Straits Times.

Also, increase communication between teachers, parents and pre-schools. For instance, parents can share with teachers about what goes on at home, and pre-schools can share with primary school teachers information on the children's background.

The preliminary study done last year has been published in the international Early Childhood Education Journal. It has since been expanded to include more children.

The initial findings are based on interviews with 15 Primary 1 pupils - seven girls and eight boys - from six schools. They were separately interviewed from May to November last year, about two to six weeks after school had started.

They were asked about their favourite time in school, whether they liked their teachers and how primary school was different from attending childcare centres and kindergartens.

Their replies showed that they wanted an environment that allowed for both work and play. "But in primary school, the formality of school begins from the first day," said Prof Ebbeck.

The children also said there were new procedures to follow. These included raising hands to ask questions and getting permission to visit the toilet and having to sit still at desks and listen quietly to teachers.

Physical education lessons, outdoor time and recess were their favourite parts of the day, because they could play games with friends and run around.

They also said their teachers were "friendly but fierce" and would scold them for bad behaviour. Some expressed a desire for more games in class, being able to sit with their friends and more outdoor excursions.

"We need to make it a happy experience for them because they learn better when they settle in quickly," said Prof Ebbeck.

Research shows a "positive transition" can help children develop confidence and social skills, she said.

Parents interviewed had mixed views. Clinic assistant Amy Ng, 36, whose daughter, Josie, seven, is in Sembawang Primary, said: "Besides having more homework, she's afraid to make mistakes because she says teachers will scold her and raise their voices."

She added: "The school had a buddy system, but it lasted only a few days, so we packed food for her for two months as she didn't know how to buy food on her own."

But housewife Janet Yong, 40, said her son Lucas, seven, had no problems adjusting. "He was quite well-prepared as his pre- school (Phyllis' Riccia School) took his class last year to a primary school nearby for a tour."

Lucas now attends Admiralty Primary, where parents were also briefed before school started on what to expect, she added.

ateng@sph.com.sg

This story was first published in The Straits Times on June 27, 2013

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