March 25, 2019

Why Are We Pushing Babies To School? – Abiodun Kuforiji-Nkwocha

Why Are We Pushing Babies To School? – Abiodun Kuforiji-Nkwocha

Why are we in a hurry to start our children off in schools in this country?

When I say we, I mean parents.

I have never really understood the dash.

My first son started toddler class (which is like pre-kindergarten, pre nursery but not crèche) at the age of 18 months. He could not speak properly then and was a very picky eater. He was idle in crèche so toddler class was supposed to prepare him for nursery. The only reason why I took him to school that early was because I was working and I was not comfortable leaving him with a nanny all day.

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He did not learn much in that first year. In fact, I was doing all the homework which they insisted on giving a baby every single day. I requested that he repeated the toddler class because pushing him forward was sure to create problems. This second time, midway, he suddenly caught on and everything was quite easy. By the time he got to nursery one, he was easily the best pupil in the class. He was confident and a star. But he was at least 6 months older than his classmates.

I did the same for my second son.

I remember visiting him in toddler class and there was this little boy who had been asked by the school to repeat toddler class because he clearly wasn’t ready for nursery. His father and grandmother came in their full fury on the Open Day.

“Why will they not promote him? What is it that they are even doing here in this class? His cousin is in Nursery 1 already, they are the same age.”

The teacher stuttered:

“He can only write from 1 to 4. He will be required to write up to 100 in Nursery 1 and he is not prepared.”

I wanted to tell them how well my son adjusted after repeating toddler class but I minded my business.

The next Open Day, this little boy was in my son’s class. He had been pushed to nursery 1. He stood out like a sore thumb. He was the smallest and seemed close to tears. I asked the teacher how he was coping. She shook her head and said she had to teach him like he was in toddler class.

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But the parents were satisfied. After all, he was in Nursery 1.

My son told me that the boy was a baby and was always crying. It was apparent that this little kid was not only struggling to catch up academically, he was not socially ready to handle a class with older children. I suspect that he was being bullied as well.

Why do we push kids that are not ready socially and cognitively because we want to say our kids are smart and finishing school younger and younger?

The moment a child can walk, everyone begins to act as though you are wrong not to place the child in school immediately. As though there is some significant delay.


Little kids are forced to wake up early, carry school bags bigger than them and come back with homework when they can barely talk and can’t hold a spoon steady. Let us tell ourselves the truth, if you have a child under two in school, you are the one doing all the homework.

My baby is 15 months and I want to wait till he is two before he starts pre-nursery but in the same apartment complex we live in, a baby younger than him by a week started school in September. The other baby that is 3 months younger than him will start in April. I want my own to start in September. But now, I feel under social pressure, like I am doing something strange by waiting.

As it is, I am thinking of my first two kids stopping primary at year 5. This is simply because I don’t want them to always be the oldest in the class as that can be a source of bullying.

So I did a little research finding out the ages that kids start year one in various countries and this is what I came up with:



England and Wales

5 to 6

USA (slight variations across states, in fact, average age of starting school is increasing)

6 to 7


6 to 7


6 to 7


4 to 5



South Africa                    



5 to 7








5 to 6




6 to 7


(kids as young as 18monts are accepted in preschool in India as well)

5 to 6



Now, the interesting thing was that in almost all these countries, there is room for pre-schooling. Pre-kindergarten to kindergarten or pre-primaries or pre-nursery to nurseries or Reception. None of these countries had the recommended age of starting any form of schooling beneath the age of 3 except for Netherland that has available schooling for two-year olds who are not Dutch.

So what pre-schooling is a child that is between one and three actually doing? They are really glorified crèches that mimic pre-schooling (kids wear uniforms and have homework). We satisfy our minds that our kids are in school when in my small experience, a child does not begin to get things till they are about three. This is not to rule out exceptional children. They do exist but they are exceptions.

I see parents stressed up because a two-year old child can barely hold a pencil. That is normal. It doesn’t matter if other children can do this, the child is not unintelligent for not being able to do this. There is plenty of time for them to learn. A teacher once suggested I get a lesson teacher for my barely two-year-old son. I laughed in her face. I asked her if she knew how to write before she was three. In my days (oh lord, I am old. I actually have a period titled ‘my days’), five was the normal age for starting school. I know I played at home till I was five. I did a year in pre-primary three before moving to year one.

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Dear Nigerians, are we doing anything special by pushing babies to schools? Are our kids any brighter by starting this early? Is the real aim to have them become university graduates by 18? Will there be some hidden trauma at the end for what we are doing? Will the schools admit that what they have are just daycare classes before a child starts pre-schooling?

I am not fooled by teaching a child how to memorise states and capitals. Or even the times table. Kids repeat stuff easily. My little baby knows three comes after two. Does he know what numbers are? He just understands that certain sounds come after certain sounds. Ask a child the meaning of ‘capital’ and you will see they don’t even understand how the world is delineated. They may cram definitions but it takes a while for them to understand what they are saying.

At the end of the day, my kids at five in year one are practically the oldest and that is quite odd. I would love for my baby to even wait till he is three to begin school but I don’t want my kids to be ‘odd’ in anyway because these things may have psychological repercussions.

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Lilian Osigwe Editor

A Creative and Versatile Writer.  
Currently writes for SabiNews Media

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