In 2016, the Department of Education (DepEd) announced the implementation of the Basic Education Enrollment policy that aims to "to institutionalize an efficient enrollment process in public and private schools." The policy stated the age requirement — 6 years old and above by August 31st of the school year — for those entering Grade 1. Kids whose age qualifies them to enroll in Grade 1 should have also completed kindergarten programs in DepEd accredited schools, day-care centers, or even kids who are home-school learners.
Two years after the policy was announced, however, parents of preschoolers are still questioning the age cut-off for Grade 1 students. And the grievances have been louder since K to 12 went in full implementation. Parents raise two common issues:
1. Kids who don't meet the age requirement will have a "gap year." If a child is turning 6 years old on September 1, 2018, he or she cannot be accepted to enter the first grade for the school year 2018 to 2019. Affected parents are concerned that if their child sits out school for one year, it will affect their child's development. It has prompted several to seek out academic institutions who would accept their 5-year-olds as Grade 1 students.
2. Children are forced to repeat Kindergarten. For Pinoy parents, academic excellence is a point of pride. The idea of "repeating" in our culture implies poor academic performance; they don't like that their child can be perceived that way. There is also the financial aspect. Parents will pay for another academic year their child had essentially passed.
Atty. Joseph Noel Estrada, an expert in education law, appealed to DepEd to reconsider the cut-off month for incoming Grade 1 students. "It is for the best interest of the child to be in school, not out of it," he wrote on Facebook, according to a report byMB.com.ph. "These kids are school-ready as shown by their school’s assessment and deserve to be in school," Atty. Estrada stressed.
He also cited the timing of the release of the order late into the second half of the school year, and that several DepEd regions have allowed private preschools to accept students who are only turning 5 after August 31. "DepEd should respect the choice of parents to start education of the children earlier in private schools," Estrada added.
SmartParenting.com.ph asked a couple of moms about the issue. Some parents suggest ways to compromise, while for other parents consider it as a crucial choice.
Nancy, who has a 2-year-old boy, doesn't agree with DepEd's policy. She reasons what if a child shows "advanced skills" as a toddler? "I feel like it will deprive my son of an education he needs at a crucial time."
"My youngest son has to wait a full school year before he can go to Grade 1 because his birthday is in December," said Rocio from Laguna, mom of two boys, ages 4 and 6. She told us that she knew of schools that disregarded the cut-off month as long as the child passes the entrance exam. But Rocio was willing to wait. "I don't want to cheat the system, so I am willing just to follow the rules if I want to make sure my child goes to the school of our choice," she said.
Luisa from Manila and mom of two boys, ages 6 and 3, has mom-friends who decided to transfer their children to other schools for fear their kids will play academic catch-up if they start late. "I think there should be some leeway for those kids whose ages are 'alanganin,' like giving the option of a qualifying exam," she suggests. Her children aren't affected by the cut-off, but she thinks age 6 is a good age for Grade 1.
For Patricia from Muntinlupa, mom to a 7-year-old first grader, she felt the problem is the lax implementation of the policy. "When my daughter was in preschool, I already knew that majority of the schools were [requiring Grade 1 students] to be at least 6 years old. Four years ago, she had schoolmates who had to stay in preschool an additional year because they were under 6. It wouldn't be an issue now if it were strictly implemented years ago," she shared.
DepEd Undersecretary Tonisito Umali, in an interview with GMA News, insisted that no matter what age cut-off DepEd imposed, there will always be children who would be affected. Umali stressed the cut-off month was determined based on studies on the best age for kids to start Kindergarten.
Speaking from experience, mom Patricia believes the DepEd had the children's best interest in mind. "As much as I thought my daughter could already start Grade 1 at 5 years old, I'm happy she had a third year in preschool. Now that [she's in Grade 1], I realized that Grade 1 in a traditional school is a lot of work. Starting at 6 was just right," she said.
Nina Peña-Atienza, a mom of four whose youngest daughter will be affected since her birthday is in September, agreed. "When our children start first grade, they need to be developmentally ready, not only mentally but also physically, emotionally and socially ready."
Nina isn't averse to early schooling — her kids started playschool at 2.5 years old — but she feels that "formal schooling can and should wait." She adds, "My third child will be 5 years old in a month, and I can't imagine her going to first grade!"
"I think more important than the minimum age mandate is the readiness of the child to attend school," Rocio emphasizes.
What do you think is the best age for kids to start kindergarten? How about the best age to enter big school? Tell us in the comments below.