Schools in Delhi this year will continue to admit students to Class 1 below the age of 6 years. This is contrary to recent letters from the Union government to all states, urging them to align the age of entry to Class 1 with the new National Education Policy 2020.
2. National Education Policy about Minimum age
The updated NEP proposes a structure labeled as "5+3+3+4" for the formal education system, corresponding to specific age groups: 3-8 years (referred to as the foundational stage), 8-11 years (known as the preparatory stage), 11-14 years (referred to as the middle stage), and 14-18 years (designated as the secondary stage).
This reform integrates early childhood education, typically considered as preschool education for children aged 3 to 5 years, into the formal schooling system. Consequently, a child is expected to be 6 years old to qualify for admission into Class 1 after completing a three-year early childhood education program
3. Why is it being debated now?
Since the introduction of NEP 2020, the Union Education Ministry has been urging States and Union Territories to standardize the age for enrollment in Class 1 to six years, aligning with the new national education policy.
Across states, the age of entry into Class 1 varies—some enroll students at 5 years old, while others wait until they turn 6. Whenever the Central government reiterates this alignment requirement according to NEP guidelines, it often becomes newsworthy.
For instance, there was a legal challenge last year when Kendriya Vidyalayas adjusted their admission age from five to six years for Class 1, aiming to comply with NEP 2020 recommendations.
Some parents contested this change in court, arguing that it was abrupt, just before the February 2022 admission process. Despite their plea, the Delhi High Court dismissed the challenge, a decision later upheld by the Supreme Court.
Subsequently, after another reminder from the Education Ministry to synchronize entry ages, the Delhi government decided, at least for the ongoing academic year, to follow its existing guidelines based on the Delhi School Education Rules (DSEAR 1973), allowing admission to Class 1 for children below 6 years old.
4. What does the Right to Education Act say about the age of entry
The Right to Education (RTE) Act ensures education for children between the ages of 6 and 14. This implies that a child is anticipated to commence primary education, specifically Class 1, at the age of 6.
Academics involved in formulating the Right to Education legislation indicated that the age of 6 was chosen, aligning with the common global practice in most countries to enroll children in grade one at ages 6 or 7.
RTE Act had to specify the entry age for enforcement of formal compulsory education which has been ignored even now by many States leading to the confusion of the actual age for admitting students grade1
5. Research about minimum age
David Whitebread, an academic from the Faculty of Education at Cambridge University, in his paper titled ‘School starting age: the evidence,’ discussed the potential need for children to have more time for development before embarking on formal education.
Whitebread's research highlighted that when comparing groups of children in New Zealand who commenced formal literacy lessons at ages 5 and 7, the outcomes revealed that initiating formal learning approaches to literacy early did not enhance children’s reading development and could even have negative effects.
By the age of 11, there was no discernible difference in reading ability between the two groups. However, those who started at 5 exhibited less favorable attitudes toward reading and displayed weaker text comprehension compared to those who commenced later.
Additionally, in a separate study examining reading achievement in 15-year-olds across 55 countries, researchers found no significant correlation between reading proficiency and the age at which students entered school
6. Way forward
Six is the standard age for starting primary school across East Asia, not just in Japan. This age is also common in most European countries. It is usual (though not compulsory) for younger children in these societies to attend some sort of preschool. In this regard, the USA and the UK, where children generally start school at 5, appear to be outliers