Zurich Council pushes for late-born children to start kindergarten in February
The Cantonal Council of Zurich has accepted a proposal by the FDP: The Liberals, Swiss People’s Party and the Green Liberal Party that would allow parents to delay the admission of their children into preschool for six months.
Changing mandatory preschool in Canton Zurich
With the new proposals, parents of children who are still "developing" by the time they are sent to preschool can postpone their admission for six months and still enter the school system at the same time as those admitted at the usual time.
Under the current HarmoS Agreement used by 15 different counties (cantons) in Switzerland, all children who reach the age of four by July must start their first mandatory year of preschool in the August of that year. This means that children as young as four years and one month have to start preschool immediately or join a year behind. This has led to one in five children in HarmoS cantons starting primary school a year later than they should.
Many children in Switzerland not ready for preschool at age four
According to a survey by education economist Stefan Wolter, a third of parents believe their child is too young and playful to be starting preschool at age four. These parents are concerned that some children do not have the social or practical skills to be in a class with limited supervision. 10 percent of children in Switzerland are not toilet trained by age five and many parents worry that their child may be a burden on the whole class.
Cantonal councillor Marc Bourgeois (FDP), one of the advocates of the proposal, was of the opinion that late-born children were not ready for preschool at age four and present a high workload for kindergarten teachers. The solution put forward by members of the council is to give children the option of an extra six months at home before attending kindergarten for one and a half years, and then heading to primary school at the same time as their peers.
Starting Swiss kindergarten in February not the only solution
Despite support from three major political parties in Canton Zurich, the new proposals have been criticised by the scientific community. Margrit Stamm wrote in Watson that having a late-born child in preschool stimulates the child’s development and the negative effects that worry parents only last around six months. She also voices concerns that holding children back six months at home could leave children underprepared for preschool and under-challenged mentally.
What she proposes, along with Pediatrician Oskar Jenni, is for a flexible system for children under which the parents decide whether their child is ready for school. “A rigid deadline would not do justice to the great developmental diversity of children”.