Kindergarteners can't coast on cuteness anymore

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Is your 5-year old tough enough for first grade?

Children at a kindergarten in Ho Chi Minh City. New standards issued by the Ministry of Education and Training that will take effect in coming academic year have worried many parents.

Parents and educators continue to kvetch over the Ministry of Education and Training's new educational standards for five-year-old children which will take effect at the beginning of the new school year.

The standards are aimed at improving early childhood development and inspiring a holistic approach from parents and the community in preparing children for elementary school.

On September 6, the official commencement of the academic year, kindergarteners will be expected to meet new physical, cognitive and behavioral benchmarks.

A draft document of the new requirements, presented last year to gauge public response, has attracted criticism from parents and experts who say the proposed standards are a bit extreme. Few amendments were made to the proposed standards leaving the concerns to linger.

Huynh Van Bau, a resident in Ho Chi Minh City, said he continues to worry that his five-year-old son could be disqualified for these standards for a host of reasons.

"I think these are difficult tests for five-year-old children," Bau said. "How can a five-year-old run 150 meters without stopping or execute a 50-centimeter jump without getting a running start?"

Nguyen Thi Phuong Lien, principal of Huong Sen Kindergarten in Ho Chi Minh City's Go Vap District, said there should be more flexible physical standards due to the varying physical capabilities of each child.

"A broader range of requirements would be more suitable for all local children," she said.

However, she also argued that many parents under-estimate their children and are too preoccupied with the proposal. Kids can qualify in standards like emotional maturity and cognition, but all of the parents are preoccupied with the physical challenges.

Not compulsory

Phan Thi Lan Anh, vice head of Kindergarten Education Department under the Ministry of Education and Training, said the standards were not issued to categorize children or put pressure on them.

Anh argued that the standards aim to help teachers evaluate each child so that they can develop exercises and activities to foster healthy childhood development, she said.

"Parents shouldn't think of these as tough standards," Anh said. "They offer detailed goals for developing children, so parents should not worry if their children fail to meet them. The test offers an opportunity for parents to recognize problems early and develop a plan for improving upon them."

The authors of the standards have also attempted to reassure parents that the standards are based on solid research.

"We have drawn from a wide range of different social sectors"” both local and foreign studies and early childhood educators"” to develop the standards," they said.

In a statement published alongside the new standards, representatives from the Ministry of Education and Training said that provincial development authorities will have to come up with their own plans for the implementation of the new standards.

Underestimating the little ones

In response to a rising tide of concerned parents and experts, the authors of the standards have cautioned critics not to lose faith in Vietnam's tots.

"It is sad to know that many adults have under-estimated the ability of five-year-old Vietnamese children. Some psychologists were worried [by the standards] and said that our children were too fragile and too naïve to accomplish anything," said the doctors and educators from the Ministry of Education and Training who drafted the standards in a statement published on the ministry website.

"This kind of thinking makes our children weak and inactive. We are fostering a perception among them that they can't do anything and shouldn't try," they defended further.

The authors estimate that their planned criteria can be satisfied by between 40 and 60 percent of children. Should that figure go up to 80 percent, they said, they plan to make the standards tougher.

"Each individual can miss some criteria but it doesn't mean they can't satisfy these requirements eventually. It is the responsibility of adults to find out the reasons and amend education methods to improve them," they added.

Dang Thi Thanh Nga, the mother of a five-year-old child in Ho Chi Minh City, said she used to assume that the standards were too high before her son aced them.

"I couldn't believe that he could hop with one foot for five steps and executing a long jump for more than 50 centimeters until I heard about the standards and told him to try," she said. Nga added that her son also met most of other emotional, communication and cognition goals.

New standards for children aged 60-72 months - or students just about to enter first grade.

- Execute a 50 centimeter long jump, leap from a 40 centimeter height, climb 1.5 meters of ladder and throw and catch a ball from a distance of four meters.

- Button clothing, color an image and hop on one foot for at least five steps.

- Sprint a distance of 18 meters in a span of five to seven seconds. Run 150 meters without stopping and study for 30 minutes without showing signs of fatigue.

- Avoid dangerous toys, refuse to follow strangers or receive their gifts. Know that smoking is dangerous and to avoid smokers.

- Know basic family information like his or her parents' names, addresses and phone numbers. Express his or her feelings and recognize others' feelings.

- Restrain negative emotions and differentiate between useful and harmful behavior.

- Show interest in reading and writing, know how to write his or her name and recognize the Vietnamese alphabet. Be able to speak clearly and recognize others' emotions through their words.

- Demonstrate a basic knowledge of the natural and social environment, music, space and time.

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