School Readiness - Debra Laxton

Earlier definitions of school readiness focused on a set of cognitive skills that a child should possess to be ready to start grade 1. This traditional construct of school readiness was criticized for its narrow focus (Ramey & Ramey, 1999). While misconceptions in plenty of places continue to distort ideas about school readiness, understanding of what “school readiness” means has increased greatly in recent years.

There is consensus, based upon a wealth of research, that a child’s readiness for school depends on his/her levels across five distinct but connected domains

  • Physical well-being and motor development

  • Social and emotional development

  • Approaches to learning

  • Language development

  • Cognition and general knowledge

Most teachers agree. They want children to be healthy, confident, active and attentive, able to communicate their needs, feelings and thoughts, enthusiastic and curious when approaching new activities. They also place importance on skills such as the ability to follow directions, not being disruptive in class, and being sensitive to others (Getting Ready).  As Young (2003) says, “The child who is ready for school has a combination of positive characteristics.” However, educators and parents often have different definitions of school readiness. Teachers put more emphasis on the social domain whereas many parents emphasise academic readiness. Interestingly this often changes as parents experience the benefits of ECD programmes.  Examples abound from programmes serving low-income rural families in different parts of Asia (Pakistan, Nepal, Laos, Myanmar) in which parents who had clearly demanded “school learning” in the beginning are in reality most appreciative of their children’s social development. They delight in their children’s cleverness but talk most about the fact that they are polite, respectful, obedient and friendly and, at the same time, confident, curious and comfortable even with new people. They appear to combine traits that have traditionally been emphasized for children within the culture with those that are critical for coping with a changing world.

Arnold, C., Bartlett, K., Gowani, S., & Merali, R. (2006). Is Everybody Ready? Readiness, Transition and Continuity: Lessons, Reflections and Moving Forward. Background Paper for the EFA Global Monitoring Report 2007. [online] Available from