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What is the Right Age For a Child to Start School?

In Greece the children do not start full-time school until they are six years old, yet in Ireland they start at the age of four! For those whom are concerned in this matter will naturally have an opinion on what age is best for your child to begin full-time education. When we are living in our home country, this matter is not such a great concern, as we have no alternative options and don't know any different. Living in our home country, we accept that either ourselves or our children will have to start school at the legal age

of that particular country, as we consider this to be the normal thing to do. It really only becomes an issue, if we were to relocate to another country with children of school age.

In some cases, teenagers who are near to finishing school in their home country may move abroad to find that they are required to attend school for a further 2-3 years. There has also been an issue with children who have already started school at the age of four or five and moved to a country where they can't start school until they are six or seven years old, which means that they are taken out of school until they are older. There are so many opinions and stories on this matter that we decided to consider both sides of the argument.

Compulsory Education
In countries such as Ireland, children start school at four years old and leave when they are about sixteen. In the UK, children are slightly older and may begin full-time education at about five years old and finish after sitting their GCSE's at sixteen years old.

Then, in many southern European countries such as Bulgaria, children do not start compulsory education until they are at least six or even seven years old and leave school at the age of eighteen or nineteen. There are rationale explanations for why the school starting age differs and at the end of the day the important thing is how the student benefits from it and how much they have learnt once they have left full-time education. So, what do you think? Is it better to start school younger and finish earlier or should children start school when they are slightly older?

Younger Learners
In the UK and Ireland, children start school at the young age of four or five years old and enter the working world at the age of sixteen. But is a child ready to learn and have the responsibility of being away from their parents at school when they are just four or five years old? For many children, starting school is an exciting prospect, as it is new and exciting and gives them a certain amount of responsibility that is essential for everyday living and using in the outside world. Children who do not have any siblings or contact with children of a similar age can benefit by starting school, as they still have the chance to learn at an early age how to share, communicate and cooperate well with other children. Children who start school at an early age also learn skills such as reading and writing earlier too. In most cases, those who enter in to compulsory education at an early age are found to be much more mature for their age than children who don't start school until later. Once a child has entered in to the school environment, they quickly learn the key points of life skills. This explains why, at the age of sixteen when they leave school, they are able to enter in to a working environment or deal with the pressure and responsibilities of a full-time job or university course.

However, not all children enjoy the day that they wave goodbye to their parents at the school gate and enter in to the classroom for the first time. Four or five years olds are still very young to expect a child to cope with the pressure of looking after their belongings, dealing with lunch money and remembering homework deadlines. Not only that, after being in full-time education for only a year or two, most children are expected to sit formal tests such as the SAT's from as young as seven! Many would agree that seven is certainly too young to put a child of that age under that amount of pressure. Also, at such a young age, a majority of children have not had any experience of being responsible for anything and still does not have much of an idea of the outside world. Realistically, many children go from one day of playing with their toys and watching children's TV programmes and the next day, they are giving the responsibility of remembering to complete homework on time or face the punishments. Starting full-time school is probably when many children are separated from their parents for the first time and do not have the knowledge to look after themselves for several hours throughout the day. There are of course teachers, who are there to care for the children, but their main job is to teach and as the children in a class outnumber the teachers, (usually one to a class) the teacher can't really be completely responsible for every child in the class. Is it then unfair to expect a young person of sixteen years old to go straight from school in to the working world?! Perhaps it is unfair to make a child grow up so fast from being a baby to a child entering the school world and then on to full-time employment at a young age.

Later learners
Seven is not classed as too 'old' start school but the extra few years really does make a difference. When a child is seven years old, they are much more likely to have an idea of what is right and wrong and will have had more experience on life in general. By the time a child is seven years old, they are ready to go to school and very rarely are there problems with children who are not ready to start school. When children begin schooling at the age of seven, they already have knowledge of basic life skills and have the chance to learn such skills in a more relaxed environment such as at home or in a kindergarten. The child will find it easier to adapt to a school environment, which will allow them to learn better and focus on their education. Then when they finally finish compulsory education at eighteen or nineteen years old, they are more responsible and mature enough to continue in to further education or to start working. Seven years of grasping the rights and wrongs and ways of the world is a lot more than just a mere four or five years. By the time a child is of seven years old they have had a chance to have a stress free childhood, whilst learning every day skills in a calmer environment. There is also the added benefit that most schools and countries where children don't begin compulsory education until later put the children under pressure with things such as tests and exams, as they are not so common.

One of the many complaints people have with children not starting school until later is that they don't gain reading and writing schools until they are older. A child who starts school at four is at no disadvantage compared to a child who starts school at seven, as both will be just learning to read and write. In some cases, a child may be taught by their parents or pre-school teacher how to read aloud or simple write their own name, but this isn't the case for all. An expat family who moved Greece complained that their child was in front of his class mates because he was already managing to read and write simple words, when at the same time his friends were learning to write their own names at seven years old! This child was clearly quite in front of his class, but didn't want to feel uncomfortable moving in to an older class. Some of the children who start at seven years old are very immature and find it hard to settle in to a controlled school environment after spending seven years with their parents and in a relaxed environment. If a child of seven has never been given the responsibility of being responsible for their belongings or speaking for themselves, it will no doubt be a shock when they have to enter in to a world where they are given a lot of responsibility at once. A younger child may be able to adapt quicker to such changed compared to children who have became accustomed to a particular routine and then must change it when they begin full-time school. But what happens when they leave compulsory schooling? Will they act like mature, sensible young adults or will they have the mentality of somebody younger?

What do you think about this?

Do you think it's right for there to be such a difference in school starting ages across Europe and worldwide? Should there be a difference or do you think there should a standard school starting age? Do you think younger learners or the later learners get more from their education?

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