Photo Source: peterson.af.mil
Last month, President of France Emmanuel Macron declared that the government of France will be drastically reducing the age when school becomes compulsory from 6 to 3 (Euronews). This will be the lowest compulsory age for schooling in the entire European Union and the World (World Bank). While these changes will not be rolling out until September of 2019, this change begs the question of whether or not this new measure is a wise choice and what kind of psychological effects of earlier compulsory education will have on children.
According to President Macron, this new change is supposed to make schools “a place of real equality” (USA News). At this point, according to French policy, free education is available to everyone at the age of three, but attendance is required at the age of 6. Some argue that this move is more symbolic, since, according to French government records, 98% of French children are enrolled in day care primary school at age 3. However, different regions of France have different levels of kids enrolled. For instance, 93% of kids in Paris are in school by 3, while 87% are enrolled in Corsica, and 70% of kids in the overseas territories are enrolled in school at 3 years old. The style of the education is supposed to change as well. According to Macron, primary school should no longer be viewed as a day care, but as an extension of elementary school where kids can start on learning language and developing as a child. Both the new age and the new idea of primary education has sparked debate over how this would effect the development of French children.
At this point, France will have the lowest compulsory school age in the world and will dwell below the average early school age, which is 5.9 years old (Chartsbin). With the rising number of mothers in the workplace (and with that a higher number of kids enrolling in day care), psychologists are debating over the merits of child day care in the intellectual and social development of children. According to research, on average, kids who were raised in day care were more likely to score higher on standardized tests. However, there was also a negative effect on social skills among kids who were placed in day care at a young age (Psychology Today). The new focus on academics may not bode well for French schools. According to research in US schools, 6th graders who had a more academic-based preschool education (as opposed to play-based education) had significantly lower marks. They also linked that school-based early care increased academic pressure and stress among kids (New Scientist). In fact, there is even a group that is advocating for the start of formal education in the United Kingdom to be raised from 4 to 7.
While France has taken a step to bring down the compulsory age for schools from 6 to 3, there has been a lot of debate over whether or not this change will actually bring about the best benefits for children. While some parents do not have the ability due to time and work to raise their children at home, it does not seem wise of a government to dictate what is best for the child, especially since early academic-based childcare has been brought into question. Time can only tell whether or not this new shift will prove to be a benefit or detriment to schoolchildren in the future.