KATHMANDU, Aug 16: Four-year-old Anamika Rijal was as jolly and active as any other child until four months ago. The 4-year-old was mischievous of course but she did not show any behavioral problems like now following her enrollment in pre-school.
"Other parents send their kids to school even before completing 3 years of age but I sent her only at 3 and half years. And yet, she does not even like to hold a pencil," complains Anamika´s mother Apsara, a resident of Naya Naikap, Kathmandu.
"Before this she was such a happy and curious child but now she has become arrogant and unwilling to learn," she added.
According to the mother, the most difficult time for both of them is when they sit for her tot to do her homework. "I have to keep shouting at her and sometimes even go beyond that. She does not complete her homework without crying," Apsara laments.
Anamika attends the pre-school section of Sundarban School at Tinthana, Kalanki and has to complete at least 5 pages of homework each day.
Early academic pressure on children is not fruitful from any angle; on the contrary such kids develop serious learning difficulties later, warns noted child psychologist Geeta Pathak.
Pathak, who has been practicing for 27 years now, is quite worried that all pre-schools in the country, including those tagged as ´Montessori´, are putting extreme pressure on kids, as this has both immediate effects as well as severe longterm consequences.
"It is a crime to force children under 6 to hold pencils in their hands and write. Even their bones are not well developed enough for this. While unreasonable pressure naturally makes the kids arrogant, kills their joy and enthusiasm and turns them psychosomatic, by the time they reach around class 5 more problems such as letter confusion and lack of interest and concentration become apparent," elaborates Pathak, who has counseled a number of such children.
“I found the children hyper-active and suffering from distraction and learning difficulties. However, due to lack of awareness, parents and schools hardly look on such things as a serious problem,” she added.
On the other hand, schools which claim to provide a ´suitable environment´ for the children to ensure their ´holistic development´ - Montessori schools, to be precise, put the blame on parents.
"What can we do; the parents want it," says Rachana Karki, founder and principal of Happy Home Montessori at Kalanki. "Some parents took their kids away from here to get them into ´Baby Zone school´, saying that would better prepare them for class one admission in top schools," she added.
While ´Happy Home teaches its UKG kids only the alphabets and words, the latter makes every effort to see the kids excel even in writing complete sentences in both English and Nepali.
No doubt Karki is sharing a truth. "My son is a product of Baby Zone. Or else, he would hardly have made it to GEMS!" proudly announced Anita Dhungana, a Kalanki local. Her son got admitted to GEMS last year.
Pathak stresses that if at all kids are to be sent to school before reaching 6, it should be only for socialization, confidence development and emotional balance or to prepare them for future learning. "They should not even be given strict course books, let alone put through stressful exams."
However, unmonitored or uncared for by the government, Montessori kindergartens and pre-schools that generally have the least to do with the preschool concept have mushroomed in the capital and other cities over the years.
For instance, there are 38 Montessori schools in New Baneshwor alone and only four of them are registered.
“This is a very serious issue but we have no right to interfere at the pre-school level except in the case of community schools. These are registered with the local administration and have been running as they please,” said Baikuntha Aryal, district education officer.