Complaints have been made by Nursery Managers about the strategies schools are using to pressurise parents into enrolling their children for FS or KG places.
In the UAE, the compulsory school starting age is 6 (termed Grade 1 or Year 1 in most curricula), however, a majority of schools offer places for children age 3 and upwards.
Historically, the most popular age to start school has been 4/5 – FS2 in British schools, KG1 in the US and International systems.
The KHDA recently changed the boundaries for the earliest school starting age, creating a means for children as young as 2 years 8 months to join FS1 should a school and parents so wish. At the same time, the recent spate of new school openings has worked to soften demand for school places, creating an operating environment where schools have to work harder to meet enrolment targets.
These two issues are bringing about significant pressure upon families to choose between school and nursery at an ever younger age.
Complaining on a popular online forum for Early Years educators in the UAE, one Nursery Manager wrote:
"Schools are telling parents that children must complete at least one term in their FS1 class in order to qualify for an FS2 place. This is based upon 'academic' requirements - for such very young children! They say that a nursery education is insufficient for entry into FS2 and that children must be brought ‘up to speed’."
As a KHDA licensed, inspected and regulated Early Learning Centre, we are also able to offer FS2 and find the same issue applies for parents seeking entry into Year 1 for the next year. As a qualified Early Years Educator I am worried by this unnecessary and potentially harmful pressure upon very young children. The issue here should be each individual child’s school readiness, not fulfilling targets’.
Whilst the manager in question did not wish to name the specific school, she did refer schools ‘within a large UAE education group’.
Several other nurseries have come forward with similar stories of parents feeling unnecessary pressure. The manager of a popular nursery in Jumeirah Lake Towers complained that some parents have been told that without their child’s enrolment a classroom may not open at all, thereby forfeiting any hope of a later FS2 place.
"We have since heard that the child in question will most likely end up in a classroom of just 5 or 6 children. He was happy and thriving here with lots of friends, it’s sad that the decision has been made around what is right for the school rather than in his best interests."
According to Mohammed Al Suwaidi, Director of Customer Happiness Experience at Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA), "Every school in Dubai has their own assessment and admission criteria. For KG1 and KG2, schools usually assess a child’s readiness to start school as part of admission requirements. The outcome of any such assessment should be communicated with parents directly. Kindergarten is voluntary and it accommodates children who are below the age of admission to second grade. For admission to Dubai's private schools at a level higher than Grade 2, it is necessary to present proof of your child's previous schooling.”
He also noted there is an accepted age range for each school grade and the child’s age is calculated on the 31st of July for Indian, Pakistani and Japanese curriculum schools, or 31st December for other curricula.
The decision regarding your child’s school starting age is highly personal and which should be made with only their best interests in mind. Our Early Years Editor recently explored the issue of ‘School or Nursery for FS1’ and recommends parents look carefully at their child’s individual personality and developmental needs before signing on the dotted line.
Have you experienced this pressure? Join the discussion here or on facebook.