Training toddlers for interviews is absurd

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 May, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 23 May, 2004, 12:00am

Preparing for an important interview is a stressful activity for most people. When the candidates are children seeking a place at school, the pressure can be particularly intense.

The training of toddlers, some only 18 months old, to prepare them for interviews at kindergartens is, therefore, a matter of concern.

We report today that intense competition for places in elite kindergartens is driving an increasing number of parents to send their children on courses of this kind. One institution offering such training has seen a five-fold increase in admissions since 1998.

The little students attending the courses take lessons in subjects such as etiquette, common sense and communication skills. This seems absurd. The younger ones will only just have mastered the art of walking.

Children of all ages need to be stimulated and encouraged to develop. But imposing formal training on boys and girls so young can have negative consequences. So can putting them under pressure to perform in an interview. It is an unnecessary burden.

The strict interview requirements appear to apply only at a small number of the more sought-after kindergartens. But the assessments, nonetheless, represent the unacceptable face of our education system. Hong Kong is trying to move away from a rigid, exam-based approach. Many primary schools are introducing a more flexible system, which places less pressure on children and gives them more room to develop.

Kindergartens, it appears, are lagging behind. Inspections carried out by the government last year revealed many still subject their children to rote learning, lots of homework, dictation and tests.

It is worrying that a lot of these activities seem to meet with the approval of parents. Indeed, this is what many of them want for their children. They see it as the key to future success.

Part of the problem is the competition for places at top schools. Some operate a 'through-train' system where children start off at a kindergarten and then progress to the same institution's primary and secondary schools. This has some advantages, as it relieves children - and their parents - of the need to scramble for places at each stage. However, it also tends to increase the pressure at a younger age. Getting into a certain kindergarten is seen as the passport to many years of top-notch education. This, then, helps explain the demand for toddlers to be trained ahead of kindergarten interviews.

Children in Hong Kong face many pressures during their school life. They do not need to be burdened with training at an age when they should be playing and exploring their environment. It is understandable parents want the best for their children. But sending them on a course in etiquette at the tender age of 18 months is not the way to go about it.