Friday, 22 February 2013

Refreshed Kindergarten Curriculum Framework

Clearer learning goals set for pre-schools
New guidelines will push a common standard and discourage 'overteaching'
By Stacey Chia, The Straits Times, 21 Feb 2013

PARENTS will now have a better idea of what their children need to learn in kindergarten before starting primary school.

In language, they need to know how to write their first name, recognise frequently used words such as "at", ask simple questions like "why" and "what", and follow instructions like "draw a picture and colour it".

In numeracy, they should be able to count up to at least 10, do simple addition and recognise basic shapes. When it comes to social skills, they should learn to carry out tasks confidently, and get along with other children.

By spelling out these "learning goals" in an updated kindergarten curriculum framework, the Ministry of Education (MOE) wants to set a common standard among some 1,500 pre-schools here, amid concerns about their uneven quality. It also hopes to convince anxious parents that there is no need to "overteach" their children, such as sending them for enrichment classes.

The updated framework, which is used by teachers and parents as a general guide, was unveiled yesterday during a visit to Ascension Kindergarten by Ms Indranee Rajah, Senior Minister of State for Education and Law.

For the first time, learning goals were spelt out - unlike the old guidelines which were vague on this. The targets were crafted after consulting primary and preschool teachers and early childhood experts.

While the new guidelines are not mandatory, the ministry said pre-schools are "strongly encouraged" to follow them.

The aim is to get pre-schools lagging behind to level up - and not to restrict them from doing more than the bare minimum, said Ms Indranee.

"Those who have very high standards should continue to do so. The thrust of what we're trying to do is to make sure that everybody meets a certain standard."

The concept of "purposeful play" also received more play in the refreshed framework. It involves designing activities to allow children to learn through play - as opposed to rote learning.

In a note explaining the thinking behind the changes, Education Minister Heng Swee Keat wrote: "A good pre-school education provides the foundation for learning.

"Pre-schools should use play to stimulate the learning of languages and social-emotional skills. It should be purposeful and fun, invoke a sense of curiosity and seed a love for learning."

One example of purposeful play is getting children to use toys to build blocks of different heights. "The concept of taller and shorter will all come in," said lead specialist for pre-school education at MOE Tan Ching Ting.

The ministry said it will train teachers on how to better incorporate play into learning.

Parents generally welcomed the move to clarify what and how much their children need to know before starting formal schooling.

Some, however, felt the guidelines should go beyond the basic for it to serve as a useful gauge for parents. It may be more helpful if the learning goals reflect what the average pre-schooler knows, rather than stating the bare minimum.

Said banker Sajini Apok, 38, with a daughter in Kindergarten 1: "It's quite basic even for those in Kindergarten 1. Kids are exposed to so much at a young age."

But housewife Tang Yunn Tyan, 33, who has a son in Kindergarten 2, said the guidelines will serve as a good reminder for her to teach at the right pace. "I don't want to "overdo it" and kill his interest in learning."

Kids may still face pressure, say parents
By Kezia Toh, The Straits Times, 21 Feb 2013

THE updated kindergarten curriculum guidelines will go some way in addressing a common feedback among parents - how much learning is considered enough for pre-schoolers.

But it may not go far enough to ease the problem of putting pressure on young children or address uneven knowledge standards, parents said yesterday.

Although the guidelines make it clearer what children are expected to know when they start Primary 1, pre-school operators said there are no hard and fast rules that suit all classrooms.

The Ministry of Education (MOE) unveiled the curriculum guidelines as part of a push to raise pre-school standards and also to convince anxious parents that they do not need to "over-prepare" their children.

But parents interviewed by The Straits Times believe it only sets the minimum level, which may not be an accurate reflection of what an average pre-schooler knows. Hence, parents may not see the guidelines as a good gauge and they will still want to do more so that their children will not lag behind their peers.

Guidelines such as "rote-counting" to 10 from memory were dismissed as "too basic" by parent Lily Low, 33. The housewife, who has a five-year-old son in Agape Montessori House kindergarten, said that "even a three-year-old should know how to do this".

Some pre-schools already teach pupils to count up to 100, add and subtract and tell the time - while some parents might over-teach their children to give them a head start.

Ms Low added: "No matter how standardised it becomes, parents will still want to give their child a head start, so I will not be worried unless I realise that my child is not on par with my friends' children."

Pre-school operators said the new curriculum will only ease pressure on children if primary schools also manage their expectations of pupils when they arrive.

Curriculum specialist Nurliza Shah of Enfant Educare, a childcare centre, said that standards differ across schools. Some may expect children entering Primary 1 to just know the alphabet, but others may assume that a child is able to read a simple book or write a journal, she added.

While the renewed curriculum will smooth the path to Primary 1, pre-schools still have to do some guesswork to prepare their pupils, which will lead to over-teaching, she said.

One way to solve this would be to have greater collaboration between pre-school and primary school teachers to ease the transition, said pre-school chain EtonHouse's group managing director Ng Gim Choo.

The MOE said yesterday that it will brief primary schools on the new guidelines and learning goals.

Two By Two Schoolhouse director Li-Anne Sia said the updated guidelines send the message that pre-schoolers should not be overly burdened academically, but learn the basics through play.

But Ms Nurliza pointed out that pre-schools will still feel the pressure to go beyond the basics.

She recounted how a recent lesson on Earth and its planets quickly led to a discussion on meteors - prompted by a child who spoke of the one that rattled Russia last week. She said: "Children are getting smarter and guidelines just set a direction - if teachers can deliver above that, they will."

Examples of what children need to know when they enter Primary 1

THE updated Kindergarten Curriculum Framework outlined what is expected of a child in six key areas:

Language and literacy
- Recognise and write their own first name
- Recognise high-frequency words such as "at"
- Ask simple questions in English, such as "who", "what", "where", "when", and "why"
- Talk about personal experiences with others (for example, tell their friends about an outing to the park)
- Understand simple verbal instructions like "draw a picture and colour it"

- Rote count up to at least 10
- Match, sort and compare things by one attribute (that is, according to colour, shape or size)
- Simple addition
- Compare the quantities of two sets of things and use "more", "less/fewer" and "same as" appropriately

Motor skills development
- Use eye-hand coordination to perform tasks like building structures with blocks
Aesthetics and creative expression
- Enjoy, create and express ideas in art, music and movement
Social and emotional development
- Work and play cooperatively in a group
- Express and cope with emotions appropriately, such as talking or reasoning with peers instead of hitting them
- Develop confidence in carrying out simple tasks
Discovery of the world
- Show an interest in the world around them, find out why things happen and how things work, develop a positive attitude to the world around them

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