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The Cons of Early Admission

Posted June. 10, 2010 14:03,   


The results of a new study answer the question of whether to send a smart child to elementary school before he or she reaches the legal age. Conducted by a Korea University team, the study found that children born in March did better in school, while those born in February the next year performed poorly even if in the same grade. The team compared the Programme for International Student Assessment score and the birth dates of 10th graders as of 2006, and found that the gap in average scores between students born in March and those born in February the year after ranged from 20 to 25 points. The standard for elementary school admission age changed to the birth date of Jan. 1 from last year, moved up from March. Schools then recruited students from children born from March in the given year to February the next year.

In an analysis of the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study taken by eighth graders in 2007, the gap in average scores of the two groups of students was nearly 10 points. A survey of students enrolled at five highly competitive international junior and senior high schools admitted through admissions tests also found that those born between March and May comprised 30.2 percent of the students. Those born between December to February took up 18.5 percent. As a Korean proverb goes, a one-day gap in birthday appears to make a big difference.

After checking the roster of youth ice hockey leagues in Canada in 2007, Canadian psychologist Roger Barnsley discovered a unique trend. The birthdays of most of the students were concentrated between January and March. Schools recruit players for their teams when children reach ages nine or 10, and the cutoff is Jan. 1 in this process. Children born in the early months of the year tend to have a larger physique, which increases their chances of making the rosters. Once they become candidates, they undergo intensive training and turn out to be great athletes. In his bestselling book “Outliers: The Story of Success,” Malcolm Gladwell wrote that for an individual to become successful, social conditions as well as individual talent are important.

According to education experts, if children not ready to digest elementary school curricula prematurely enter school, they fail to overcome the score gap. This impact persists through their high school years. The Korea University team’s study questions the appropriateness of sending children to elementary school a year earlier, something that a pending bill would allow. When it comes to children’s education, showing patience and waiting for children to grow are more important rather than rushing things.

Editorial Writer Chung Sung-hee (shchung@donga.com)