IQ scores for pre-school admission spark criticism

Children at an interactive lesson at Gate Junior at Dempsey Hill, where above-average IQ scores are one of the criteria for admission. ST PHOTO: SHINTARO TAY
Children at an interactive lesson at Gate Junior at Dempsey Hill, where above-average IQ scores are one of the criteria for admission.ST PHOTO: SHINTARO TAY

Ministers weigh in on practice, saying focus at this age should be on holistic development

The practice of using IQ scores as a criterion for pre-school admission was criticised by Social and Family Development Minister Desmond Lee and Second Education Minister Indranee Rajah in separate Facebook posts this week.

Their comments come in the wake of a recent Straits Times report on how the Gifted and Talented Education (Gate) group uses such scores as an admission criterion.

Children have to take a screening test and have an IQ score of about 120 and higher to qualify for the Gate Junior pre-school and learning centre in Limau Garden - in Bedok - and Dempsey Hill.

A child's IQ on average is 100.

Mr Lee said there should be a focus on holistic development during a child's early years.

"Children with developed social and emotional skills are more likely to adapt and adjust well in school, interact well with their peers, and have greater interest and motivation to learn," he said, adding that these benefits go beyond a child's pre-school years.

"Pre-schools should provide the opportunity for children to socialise, interact, and build relationships with other children across different backgrounds and with different strengths and abilities."

Mr Lee said the Early Childhood Development Agency requires all pre-schools to put in place programmes that are "holistic and developmentally appropriate for all children". The agency is also working to increase the number of places at anchor and partner operator centres, as well as Ministry of Education kindergartens so that parents are better assured of affordable, quality pre-school options, he added.

DIVERSE INTERACTION NEEDED

Pre-schools should provide the opportunity for children to socialise, interact, and build relationships with other children across different backgrounds and with different strengths and abilities.

MR DESMOND LEE, Social and Family Development Minister, on what the focus of a child's early education should be.

In the same vein, Ms Indranee said her view is that it is inappropriate to use IQ or any psychological testing of children as admission criteria for pre-schools or enrichment programmes.

Instead, pre-schools should concentrate on nurturing in children an intrinsic curiosity and motivation to learn, she said.

"The focus at this stage of their lives should be on laying the foundation for (them) to grow up into happy, confident and emotionally secure adults, while at the same time allowing them to enjoy their childhood," she said.

"This means inculcating moral values, social-emotional and psycho-motor skills. Cognitive development would largely take the form of learning by playing, and building up of language skills."

In particular, she noted that children should be given ample opportunity to engage in learning experiences and activities that allow them to socialise, interact and build relationships with others.

"Precocious" children - or those who have developed certain abilities at an earlier age and are ready to engage in more challenging activities - will benefit from curricula based on exploratory and discovery learning, and from interacting with a diverse group of peers, Ms Indranee added.

"We should not limit their exposure and interaction to only a small group of children."

When contacted, the Gate group declined to comment.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 19, 2019, with the headline 'IQ scores for pre-school admission spark criticism'. Print Edition | Subscribe