Should children as young as five years old be made to take entrance examinations in order to get into Primary Schools?

Recently I saw a comment on a social media group platform in which someone posted the entrance results of new intakes into a primary school in Lagos and I asked myself if there was any justification for children at such a tender age to be formally assessed and given admission into Primary 1 (Basic 1) on that premise.

To assess children at the tender age of 5 or 6 in order to determine who gains admission into a primary school is to me – not just a selective mechanism that favours children from the more affluent and better educated families but also a means through which social inequities are being reinforced, putting families and children under unnecessary pressure of having failed in life.

…parents is a child’s first and longest serving teacher. For most parents, this is the period they will have the most influence on their children’s learning – for good or not so good – as the foundations are laid down…the early years are important because they set a pattern for the future. Whether learning is seen as something pleasurable to look forward to or something unpleasant to be resisted is something you profoundly influence as a parent.

Great minds and how to grow them by Berliner and Eyre 

One can only imagine the immense pressure and tension such an examination would have generated amongst participating families. Some children would have been deprived the joy of being children and made to study “studiously” like adults that are about to take an entrance examination into a university. These children would have been deprived the joy of unhindered exploration of their immediate environment, they would have been deprived the opportunity to experiment and learn in very natural ways, they would have been hindered from thinking as children and being allowed to live and enjoy every moment of being children. Rather, parents would have been busy drilling them in the “right” approach and strategy to answer “entrance examination questions”.

While successful children’s parents would be joyous and proud of their children’s achievements in successfully making the grades into their choice schools, the parents with the kids that are already being tagged as failures at the tender age of 5 will continuously think of “opportunities” missed and question what the future holds for their children. In some instances such results might even lead to creating a tensed environment in households amongst family members. But is there any need to tag children as failures at such a tender age? Can’t school administrators look at better means of admitting students? For instance, they could: make slots available for children from economically disadvantaged families, use families’ socioeconomic status to determine the distribution of admission slots, give special considerations to children with special educational needs and disability (SEND), use many other parameters aside the idea of seating for an entrance examination.

When I first decided to write this piece it was a spur of the moment reaction to the post I read by the jubilant parent who shared the good news via a social media platform, and I believe every parent or at least most parents would feel the same way if their child achieves an important goal in life, like getting admitted into a much coveted and sought after school, and one can only rejoice with such successful children and their parents wishing them the best. Although, this piece started as a draft article that I never intended to publish on edusounds.com.ng but the more I thought about the issue the more I realised the need to publish it here. I shared the first draft copy with some friends who are educators and I got some very interesting reactions from three of them:

Sampling opinions on the issue from colleagues here, people are arguing that most parents are the cause of unnecessary exams as private schools need to devise a way of shortlisting from poor kids whose over busy parents do not have all the time to cater for their developmental needs at that early age.

It’s unnecessary but you know education is an all comers affair in this country. Our understanding and practise of assessment here is still crude. Nigeria is a country of endless and needless exams. So much pressure is put on students and schools. This is one of the reasons for exam malpractice that has become endemic now.

Usually kids of the same socio-economic status would attempt the same entrance exams. Rich kids go to certain schools and poor ones go too to their own type.

I do appreciate the fact that times have changed, society has moved on and the social construct has evolved, hence the need for children to start formal education early. But as a people and as adults we owe it to children to give them the best social support we can offer, and formal assessments in educational settings for children as young as 5 years old shouldn’t be one of them. I wrote about my educational experience as a child here and here.

Finally, to any family that might have experienced an ordeal in which an ill-informed education system tells them that their little gem is already a “failure”, they should please discountenance such assessments and focus on giving their child or children the best form of education that has always stood the test of time and would continue to – read to them, tell them stories, have lots of books that are age appropriate and slightly above their age in the house, explore different learning opportunities that exist around you with them, and give lots of parental love to them. And I wish you all the best with your little gems!

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1 Comment

  • A 5-year old is probably moving into the 1st grade. Placement test might be more appropriate, where a prerequisite skill is inevitable to start with in grade 1.
    However, in a country where the job/profession of the parent, placed as an entry on the admission form plays a big in the success securing admission or otherwise, I’m afraid it’s a different ball game we are watching.

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