CHILDREN must have reached six years of age on Jan 1 of the year they are entering school. However, since 2003 an exception is given to children who are up to two weeks younger (born from Jan 2 to 15) if they have reached the “mental and reading age” of six-year-olds.
These two-weeks-younger children are required to go through a very stressful evaluation process (saringan). The first stage is a written test and, if they pass, then there is an oral interview.
These tests are centralised and conducted on two different dates by the Education Ministry at one centre in each state. In Penang this year the centre was in the Bukit Mertajam District. In Selangor last year, it was in Shah Alam.
This process deters parents from registering their children and is stressful for children who have to travel long distances to take the tests.
The ministry officials spend so much time preparing and conducting the two stages of the saringan, when the evaluation of the mental and reading age of these younger children could be done very easily.
All children entering Year One have to take a test within the first few days of school starting so they can be “streamed”, placed in class A, B, C, etc, according to their mental and reading age.
Since the younger children will be in the same schools and classes with the six-year-olds, they should take the same test with the proviso that they will be admitted only if they pass (normally 50% marks or above); if not they have to wait until they have reached the mental and reading age of six-year-olds.
The ministry needs to be innovative in doing things to bring about improvement, and this calls for moving away from established ways and having confidence in making changes. The ministry has nothing to lose and experience to gain by allowing the younger children to take the same test that six-years-olds do.
The ministry should not hold back the education of children who are only slightly younger than six years of age but have reached the mental and reading age of six-year-olds with a tedious, stressful saringan process that deters the parents of these children from registering them for early admission.
S.M. MOHAMED IDRIS
Consumers Association of Penang (CAP)