Opinion digest: Hanneli Rudi makes case for starting school a year younger
Prompted by the arrival of September 1, the first day of school for children across Estonia, Hanneli Rudi reflected on how kindergarten is simply a good way for schools to make money in light of the fact that it has been deemed unnecessary for most children's development, and that perhaps the country should instead consider having children start first grade one year younger, at age six.
In an opinion piece published by Estonian daily Postimees (link in Estonian), journalist Hanneli Rudi noted that while kindergarten teachers themselves found that kindergarten wasn't necessary for most children, who get along just fine in learning how to read and write before entering into first grade, the kindergarten business was booming nonetheless, stoked both by parents' concerns about their children passing grade school admissions tests and pressure caused by the fact that going to kindergarten remains the norm — "If all their friends are going off to school somewhere for half a day, then how do you tell your own child that no, you cannot?"
She cited that these pressures gave way to a good means of making extra money for schools, as operating costs were low but profits were high — with monthly tuition reaching nearly 90 euros per child.
"But if most children are already starting kindergarten at six and primers end up being a cakewalk for them upon entering first grade, then perhaps it would be worth lowering the school age and sending kids to school at six years old in the future?" suggested the journalist.
She pointed out that doing so should be a win-win situation for local governments, as sending children to school sooner would free up more space for nurseries while helping to fill schools half empty due to the decreasing birthrate. As a point of comparison, Rudi also pointed out that many Western children already begin school at age five and even Estonia's southern neighbor Latvia recently announced that, beginning next year, first grade would begin for children at age six.
Rudi acknowledged that many parents themselves would likely be against such a change. "Kindergarten is currently like a luggage room: you drop off early in the morning and pick up at 6 p.m., meanwhile the child is fed, combed and educated," she commented, noting that if school were to begin at six years of age instead of seven, parents would be forced to figure out a whole year earlier how their kids were to get home and how to keep them away from the internet in their absence.
She went on to point out, however, that while years ago she had written an article about Hugo Treffner Gymnasium, a prestigious high school in Tartu, wanted to add a second winter break to their school schedule, which at the time was declared unnecessary by the Ministry of Education, just last week that same ministry confirmed that beginning next year, all Estonian schools would switch to the new, five-break schedule that had already been tested out by a number of schools in the meantime.
"We will see how it goes this time," Rudi concluded.