World trends 'shifting from play-based learning' A leading US academic is calling for infants to be tested on literacy, maths and science at the age of four. George Morrison, a University of North Texas professor and director of Success for Life Programmes in Early Childhood Education, is to deliver his controversial ideas in a lecture at Baptist University today. But local experts say test- obsessed Hong Kong is more likely to continue to push for 'a play-based approach' to early childhood education to minimise academic drillings in preschools. Speaking ahead of his lecture, Professor Morrison said global trends in early childhood education were shifting from play-based to setting 'learning and teaching standards'. 'Generally, standards are minimum levels stating what we want every child to know and do,' Professor Morrison said. '[Standards set] a level educational playing field for all children, especially for poor children, ethnic minorities and immigrants.' However, he said educators should put setting standards into political, economic and social perspectives based on individual children's abilities as well as parents' expectations. US presidential hopefuls have pledged in their campaigns to invest heavily in early childhood education, citing neuroscientific research that claims children are fit to learn at an earlier age. 'One of the realities of early childhood education today is that it is academically oriented. Politicians believe this is necessary in order to keep their countries economically competitive,' Professor Morrison said. 'We want every child reading by the time they leave kindergarten.' Since standards setting and assessment went hand in hand, he said, testing could tell if children were meeting learning standards, which measured schools' and teachers' success and ranked their performance. 'If we want to know our children are learning and what we can do to help them, we need to start [assessing them] at the age of four,' he said. He accepted testing at a young age was controversial, but stressed that assessment did not necessarily involve 'paper and pencil' exams. 'Of course it's a concern. No early childhood educators would say it's not, especially when testing becomes a purpose rather than just a tool in education,' Professor Morrison said. He suggested educators could achieve balance by using appropriate tests, such as anecdotal assessment, class observation and collecting pupils' journals. 'Learning through play is one of the foundational principles of early childhood education, but standards and play are not incompatible.' However, Hong Kong Institute of Education's early childhood education professor Margaret Wong Ngai-chun said some educators in Britain and the US were struggling to balance a play-based approach while meeting academic standards. 'If learning outcomes are academically based, children's joy in learning will be robbed. This is evident in the US and Britain,' Professor Wong said. 'Drilling at an early stage is not a good thing. Understanding concepts of numeracy and literacy is more important than mechanics.' She said Hong Kong' preschool educators needed to learn how to lighten up an academic approach with fun and play. 'Heavy play-based approach is still what we are advocating and there is no need for change as Hong Kong is doing quite well in international tests,' Professor Wong said. Hong Kong Kindergarten Association chairwoman Mary Tong Siu-fun said 15 per cent of 986 kindergartens in Hong Kong were still relying on dictation and testing. 'Some kindergartens push writing and some make kids write two pages a day, but there is not much consistency,' Ms Tong said. She said many Hong Kong parents still preferred kindergartens to teach academically so their children could get into well-respected primary schools. Professor Morrison is delivering his lecture on the development and trends in early childhood education in the School of Continuing Education at Baptist University at 3pm today. He will also speak on standards, assessment and accountability on Monday at Baptist University.