Your 5-Year Old Should Not be in Primary One

Your 5-year old should not be in Primary One.

I know! Controversial huh!

…because you probably did it and you feel that your child is handling it well or can handle it. After all, they are either coming tops of the class or is doing well above the 70s grade point.

Sadly this thinking is not only misleading but is proven to have downward effects.

Before we highlight reasons why this doesn’t make for best education practices, take a look at the age at which children of these top 13 countries in education (based on Math and Science scores) begin first grade.

1 Singapore – 7 years
2 Hong Kong – 6 years
3 South Korea – 8 years
4 Japan and Taiwan – 6 years
6 Finland – 7 years
7 Estonia – 7 years
8 Switzerland – 7 years
9 Netherlands – 6 years
10 Canada – 6 years
11 Poland – 7 years
12 Vietnam – 6 years
13 Germany – 6 years

Do the average. It’s about 6 years.

Do you see any country beginning primary school at 5-year old? There must be many reasons behind that. Those reasons I will argue are deeply rooted in nation building if you research further.

We see many young children struggling so hard. Hard enough just to match and catch up; troubled at the thought of disappointing their parent or being perceived around school by teachers and friends as a ‘slow’ learner. This usually puts a strain on the love for learning and willingness to do more.

Agreed. Many mistakes are made and sometimes there may be no turning back… but at whose detriment?..children….and at the satisfaction of whom?… parents. Isn’t that twisted already?

Why is this one year in the life of a 5-year old significant in building lifelong skills for learning, critical thinking, creativity, innovation and invention?

Simply put, because there are typically significant distinctions in physical characteristics and abilities between ages 5 and 6.

Now, many claim that their child is ‘gifted’ or a ‘genius’, but the yardstick for measuring whether a child is actually gifted is so comprehensive that most claims fall flat when reviewed. In addition, it is not done for the average pupil which is why detailed study must go into it.

Look at this.

Pupils should not be subjected to full classroom tuition until the age of six to off-set the effects of premature “adultification”, it was claimed.
Dr Richard House, a senior lecturer at Roehampton University’s Research Centre for Therapeutic Education, said gifted pupils from relatively affluent backgrounds suffered the most from being pushed “too far, too fast”.
He quoted a major US study – carried out over eight decades – that showed children’s “run-away intellect” actually benefited from being slowed down in the early years, allowing them to develop naturally.
Many bright children can grow up in an “intellectually unbalanced way”, suffering lifelong negative health effects and even premature death, after being pushed into formal schooling too quickly, he said.

Most Nigerian schoolchildren already start nursery and primary school earlier than their peers in many other developed countries; as we continue struggling as an underdeveloped country. To what extent have we been able to apply this resolve towards a given benefit,,,personally and nationally?

Among most (especially in the private sector), children are normally expected to be in primary school by age 5, as most are enrolled in nursery education at age two or three. They are being made to perform certain tasks that impede on their natural born instincts. Instincts that lead to self construction of knowledge that naturally lead to new inventions, innovations and self discovery.

A primary education specialist John Coe says that the notion that learning more earlier nets better results is not supported by academic research.
He says: “There is a unanimity of view among professionals and academics that this is beginning to exceed the personal and developmental capacity of children who are five and six years old.”

Dr Terry Wrigley an academic coordinator says “Many five-year-olds will struggle to name 3D shapes or ‘instantly’ subtract seven from 16. Young children are becoming very skilled at using technology but how many five to seven-year-olds will be able to learn how to ‘create and debug simple programs’? Take a child’s understanding of time. Anyone who has gone on a motorway journey with a child or planned a birthday party for one will know that young children of this age struggle with the concept.”

All these speak to the importance of practicing age appropriateness in our school settings.

What is even more scary is the tasks our pupils are given to perform. If one is being honest with themselves, they will find that children are served with ‘limiting’ content; practiced with narrow opportunities for meaning making. Tasks that should be left for an older aged child with that sort of already developed reasoning capacity. On the other side, sadly, most are being coerced to memorize certain concepts to prove capacity. This isn’t right.

Why should a five-year old be made to solve a two-digit addition/subtraction problem without being made to learn the rudiments behind quantifying two digit numbers?

What will be the need to use two-digit numbers at this age to solve real life problems during play or free time?

This is most likely why our students do not relate numbers or Math with real life thereby struggling so hard with it. Others are given an average of 10 subjects to study without mastering the foundational skills needed for them.

This is the age where hands-on experiences help them to form theories to explain “how” and “why” things happen. Sadly, we tend to kill that spirit of inquiry when we make them do tasks that gives no room for that. On scrutiny, most curriculum being used leave very little room for pupils to engage in the learning process. They are either large and peripheral in volume or narrow and overdone; leaving no room for problem solving skill development.


While the focus for 5-year olds towards proper child development includes;
1. play and learning ( It’s still how your child learns and builds social, emotional and thinking skills)
2. expression of feelings (better control of emotions, patience, open to reasoning etc
3. thinking (developing longer attention span for identifying details)
4. talking and communicating (to build strong collaboration and leadership skills) etc……

…we encourage you wait for your child to be holistically ready in all of the above because of its numerous lifelong benefits. Benefits of maturity and social development are important because we spend longer years as adults.

There are developmental spurts at approximately ages 5-6; 11-12; and around 15. This is referred to the executive center of the brain. It is responsible for rational thought, problem-solving, planning, attention, creativity, self awareness, understanding and interpreting emotion. That is why these key stages are essential to moving into formal stages of primary school at 6 years when the brain is developed for handling some level of content.

There is a misguided notion that children should be more independent earlier, and do things faster and better than their peers if they want to achieve success.

It is an unrealistic goal that places tremendous pressure on each generation to achieve the impossible. We put the brain through more than 25 years of development and experience to go through a crash programme lasting only a few short years.

Having noted all the above, this would be somewhat different if your child is gifted, and this must be checked thoroughly and confirmed to be so.

It is the job of educators and parents to understand the science of learning, the demand/benefits for natural growth in learning that allows for deep learning. Deep learning that brings about smooth and less straining success, the kind that culminates in future fulfillment.

Just that one year makes all the difference.

Think about the year before puberty for boys and girls and how natural changes bring about so much in the lives of teenagers. If managed wrongly, their lives could change forever.

It is becoming obvious that we may be putting the cart before the horse all these years; as we note that the understanding behind new inventions and innovations is still long coming. A good education system naturally leads to new developments.

I can confidently say that this parochial system of education affects the health and growth of our country as a whole.

We must begin to teach using developmentally appropriate methods and strategies. So that our pupils are taught to learn how to learn; NOT learning how we teach. What I term as ABRACAMATICS. Click to read my short thoughts on that.

I have carefully left out issues of funding where many argue that they’d rather their child finishes early to save cost. This is another misconception because you’ve saved what can be quantified at the risk of your child’s overall success in life; not only cognitively but emotionally and socially. There is increasing evidence to this.

We have to rethink our ways and reconceptualise our education practices for the greater good. Your thoughts are always welcome.


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    1. This is timely, concise and very educative. The concept in child educational development is well highlighted.

      1. I tend to agree at facevalue that pupils need time to learn how to learn.

        We are looking at just the age factor while I also know that in earlier societies children were absorbed into the labour market relatively earlier.

        I think we need to have a specific,cut-to-our-size research that would help to properly assess our children,their unique environment,their development and connecting it to national development.

        Educational templates we have adopted for many years from colonial rule,may have served their purpose for that time,but definitely not our own purposes and aspirations.

        We must grow our unique brand of educational philosophy and approach capable of of global impact.

        Beyond the age issue which is important,I think there is something equally fundamental that we may be overlooking.

        Good article which sets you thinking and thinking through again….

        This is just my opinion.

  1. This is a punctilious article! I just wish this can be delivered as a lecture to the Nigerian parents!
    Fantastic piece!

  2. While I believe there is significant room for improvement in our current approach to child education in Nigeria, I’m struggling to see any truly empirical backing to the claim that education from age 5 is harmful. The statistics on average age of starting school in other nations do not necessarily imply that: correlation does not always mean causation, and you and I know that there are a myriad of other indicators that vary between Nigeria and these countries. The one linking early age of starting school to premature death is particularly ludicrous: it’s almost like telling us we could link the first word a baby speaks to his/her success or failure in life. This is simply impossible as like the other instance above, there are millions of other factors at play in the life of an individual. It’s all well and good to propose a realistic school start age for children, but more cogent and more convincing reasons than the ones presented above will be required to drive home that message.

    1. U spoke my mind.
      In those other countries, these children are already exposed to a lot of pictorial lessons. Exposed to d usage of gadgets. So by d time they are in grade 1,they are fully equipped.
      How many Nigerian kids have direct asset to such, particularly laptop or ipad usage? Or how many Nigerians schools have it in quantom for their students? And how many can afford d schools that have it?

  3. I agree with Akin’s argument, the need for a home-grown education policy and instructional templates cannot be overemphasized. Core indices addressing our peculiarities, language and culture should play out in this policy and must be reflective of a feasible set of goals and aspiration.

  4. It’s incredible that we are not learning anything but in a haste to achieve success. Whatever we jump at the bend, we shall surely meet at the corner.

  5. Go deeper in your research. Africa is very very different from these countries.
    Our children develop faster mentally than the foreign children… majorly due to the exclusive brestfeeding that african parents used to practise. So I do not see a solid basis for this argument that we should slow down our children’s education.
    Talking about not inventing things, a lot of factors are at play here, have u taken into consideration the nigerian socio-economic situation, the effect of absent power supply and inadequate government support for creativity and technology?
    Nigerians have and still perform better than these foreigners when they are in that environment. They think and they create things there, because the conditions in those countries favour that. You probably won’t know that because it will not get to the news.

    1. You lost me at majorly due to the exclusive breastfeeding, how??? What research did /have you carried out or read??. Please don’t take everyone back…

  6. In my country, Nigeria, most jobs even government jobs have its age pegged at 25 -27.
    If an average Nigeria starts school without putting certain contingencies in place, it won’t be an easy route for him/her……
    Let me break it down with my own personal life experience….
    I started primary school at age 6. I spent 6yrs in primary school (Primary 1-6). I spent another 5years in secondary school skipping a class therein.(I.e JSS1-3, SSS1-3).
    I passed my entrance exams into the university but was not giving admission (if you ask why, I don’t know). This occurred for 6 consecutive years(NB:I passed all my entrance exams during this 6years)…. I spent approximately 5years in the university and would spend another 1year with service Corp…..

    Do the maths; I will be 29years at the end of the day….. So, tell me why I won’t allow my 2yr old kid to start primary?

    1. You are not being realistic, if you have issues with your schooling, that is not an indication that, your children, will experience such too. We should feel for these children, these are the same set of children we wake @ 4am,because we have to beat the traffic. We are putting those kids through lot of stress.

      1. The issue is not just a Nigerian factor, it is a positive research for all children. Nigerian factors may create a hostile environment for good schooling system but this topic is more than real. Come to think of it, its not just the academic performance we are talking about here. Why can’t we think about the social devaluation as one of the evil consequences of this age rush. Yes my child is in the university at the age of 15, instead of this so called bright chap to continue educationally, she sees her mature final year roommate getting married and all that is on her head is her dream man. At this stage, she is struggling with her scores not really her learning. Besides every curriculum has a national goal at focus, who young graduate don hep? How many are employed? Just few from the rich back ground. Morally they don’t know their left from their right. At the age of sixteen, a beautiful young girl is committing suicide because of heart break from men. Let me stop here but the topic should be widely discussed in PTAs.

  7. Parents need to read the Jean Piaget’s Cognitive development theory to actually understand the damage rushing children does to them. We simply force them to mature…? No but subject them to frustration in the name of learning…learning can either be at frustrational, instructional or independent level. Lots of 5s in Grade 1 are struggling! I’ve spent over 15years in the classrooms to know that.

    1. Very correct, but parents tink BC deir 5yr is outspoken n sharp dat dey can carry d load n pressure frm grade 1 workload. As a teacher for yrs parents kill self confidence if deir children at dis age. Pls let’s tink about dis little ones no our selfish selves.

      1. Hello Comfort,
        If you are a teacher, you should at east spell out your words correctly. I am interested in your opinion on the matter, but your spellings are not helping.

        1. I don’t know what sort of teacher will comment on a public forum with a lazy approach to spelling,tenses and sentence structure? For me these teachers are one of the many factors affecting our development.

        2. Guess you also meant to type “at least” not “at east”. It’s easy to judge others while forgetting we are also prone to mistakes.

    2. You are very correct and then they are loaded with not age appropriate concepts all in the name of their brains absorb fast. These children tend to make a mess of their education pursuit as they grow older and the popular phrase he was not like this before sets in Cos the child is tired. I believe the education pattern we have in Nigeria is rubbing our children of their childhood and the parents are guilty too. My 2kobo

  8. I am so happy someone is pointing this out. Our children do not develop faster as someone asserted, rather we make them develop faster and deny them the core social developmental skills they should have acquired first rather than reading and writing.
    Moreso, when there is a structured education system and functional laws, these age exploitative policies of some organisations will cease because thats discrimination.
    Thank you for this piece.

  9. What’s the difference between 5 and 6 years?

    Some kids are just 4 years and they are smarter than an average 7years old!

    I think it depends on each child not a general yardstick

    1. We always have to catch that positive message in case of necessity, rather telling us about a one year old that is a wizard.

  10. Great write up. I ave had issues explaining to som parents of even under 5 yrs dat d child is not ready for d workload in grade 1 class. Always its very difficult to get dem see reasons simply bc som children luk sharp and are outspoken. Reading, understanding or assimilation, n writing has to do wit age. Pls let’s stop forcing our children to mature over nite academically bc it wil kill deir self esteem n confidence. Its not how fast dat matters, but how well. Tnks

  11. Nice write up! but fails to show how a five year old in primary 1 is harmful! development varies from child to child and not what developed countries do!. If they have inventions its because their government has created that environment and put the write incentives for growth.
    Stop imitating others… what you feel is right for your child!

  12. I wish many parents can get this to read and our education policy in Nigeria reviewed. Thank you for this piece.

  13. Totally appreciate your thoughts on this. challenge is even 5yr old in basic one using basic two books…..I don’t know where we are running tooo

  14. Age appropriateness in class placement & curriculum exposure is fundamental to effective learning that makes positive impact to national development .
    The National policy on education in Nigeria recognised this.Thus age 6 for primary 1.& 18 years for university admission.
    It is alarming that our regulatory authorities have gone to sleep.
    Why will our education standards not drop?
    This should be a carrion call for all well meaning educationists & Nigerians to rise up to salvage our children & education structure

  15. Comfort, a teacher is writing in shorthand and after being corrected, she still struggles to spell out her words, little worried der our educational standard is so poor! I’m particularly incensed by her response.

    1. Please leave the lady alone. It’s not a formal forum, so why does she have to spell all her words out? There’s too much to get done beside showing her spelling skills. She’s not writing a formal letter, neither is she sending a report to her boss or filling her student’s communication booklet. Stop cyber bullying!

    2. In Comfort’s defence, she maybe trying to maximise the space available for comments. If that isn’t the case then ..………
      The write up is insightful. I had already been feeling the need not to make my kids start earlier than necessary.

  16. It’s sad that these children are rushed through school. I strongly believe that age has a whole lot to play when it comes to education. From experience as a teacher, I have taught primry 1 for some years. Those who are six years easily grasp new concepts and those who are five find it a bit challenging.For instance in mathematics, most parents assume once their children can write 1 to infinity they are sound. But when you ask the child to mention the number before maybe 15 or the number after 15 the child becomes quiet and then counts in his or her mind before telling you. In essence, a child at five cannot easily apply the knowledge he or she has acquired to certain topics in relation to that subject. Yes there are exceptionally smart children but how many parents today follow up on their children.most of us were five in primary one but our parents had time for us. Is it the way we were taught how to read or the uncles and aunties who gave us money to buy things coupled with the subtraction and addition of what change we were to bring back. Knowledge then was practical and analytical. Fortunately, I teach in a secondary school and what one sees is a build up of the rush coupled with cramming. A boy at 10 n Jss2? Why? One of my students who is from England would be 14 in Jss3 and of course she carted away all the prizes during speech and prize giving day and had all the A stars to show for it. Why not? In most developed countries like UK, age is taken seriously. You don’t rush a child saying he or she is too old. What’s wrong with most of us as Nigerians is the fact that we want to boast that our sons and daughters are lawyers and doctors at 20/21. Then we (parents) find the job for them if possible give them a car to make transportation easier and then we worry them over getting married because we believe they are graduates and they have jobs.
    Truth is, until we get this right, we would keep having that problem. Some won’t mind putting a 4 year old in primary one if it were possible. School owners need to be strict on the age and class before admitting a child.

  17. I do not totally agree with everything the writer has stated. Research or not. All kids are not the same so also, their abilities are different. It is up to parents and not the school to recognise this and help them develop more in their strengths while also working on their areas of weaknesses. Some kids are great with numbers, others are fantastic when it comes to art work or other soft skills. I can boldly say I am a product of early education. Did I struggle? Nope. Was I lacking in other areas, no, at least within the level of resources at my disposal eg I do not know how to play the piano because music was not covered in my school curriculum. Tried learning through church but there was no steady avenue for that. My father bought a piano when we were very little but he couldn’t play and that just ended up being a decoration all through my growing up years. Do I have any regrets, no! I started kindergarten shortly before I was 2 and because of my abilities, my progress was faster than some of my peers. I was in high school before my 9th birthday and finished just before my 15th birthday. Am I dead? No! Do I have any health issues? No! I finished among the top 20 in my high school and went On to finish among the top 10 in college. Please note, all my education was in Nigeria and I went to some of the best public schools in my time so I am not saying too 20 out of 30. I can say I developed all the key focus stated for 5 year olds way before I was 5! I am not an emotional wreck, my leadership skills are great, lots of non educational awards to my name. To sum it all up, I AM GREAT!
    There is no template for all kids, it should be each one to their abilities. Would I do this for my offspring? Yes, if they have the same abilities. Would I push for them to start learning early? No, if their interest is in the softer side of things, I would leave them to develop in their own way and not according to some set age restriction. I am in an environment where there is an age restriction before a kid can start school but whoever says I can tutor my kids at home and let them discover their abilities as well. Some kids have the Albert Einstein IQ range even in non developed countries where there are limited resources. Why would anyone want to stifle that because of some generally set standard. Then how do you get to know who is outstanding?

    1. The message maybe is not for the champions like you, kudos to you but the ignorant parents who do not really understand child development and unintentionally push thier wards too far and still get worse results at later stage of their academic pursuit.

  18. Dear Writer,

    I concur, absolutely.

    Every child should be allowwd to have a real “childhood”. There is every co-relation between a child’s age and mental development and capability. The geniuses and the gifted however being identified and set apart by some standard and tested criteria.

    It is baffling, (but it is common occurence) to have kids barely 2years of age being given lessons on writing of alphabets.
    The competition amongst the present day private schools is one big factor fueling this unhealthy trend.

    The nation’s ministry of education should actually help the nation in bringing about this needful reversal to right age-appropriteness in learning.

    Parents on their part should learn that the race of child rearing, grooming and eventual metamorphsis into adulthood is not all about who got there fastest but atually more on who got there with MORE CONTENT, PRODUCTIVITY and QUALITY. Don’t be carried away by the band wagon.

    Beware, the end justifies the means.

  19. Hmmn….a clear explanation would be to mention the fact that we understand things better and faster as we grow older. I had my first degree by the age of 21 years. Albeit i was regarded as a bright student then, fast forward some years later, i found out that understanding books i read got so much easier with age. I believe that explains a lot! With that experience, my kids have all gone through Primary six! The key is, Nigerians like going with the crowd. I had to explain to my kids why they must not be rushed off Primary school. It is not enough for them to get good grades , they must get them with ease. I also believe Children must be matured in mind to face the world at the end of their education. I have also noticed that a good number of kids start up very well n secondary school but as they get to higher classes they begin to struggle, and that explains why they do not get to read their intended courses in the university. Please let us be patient with our kids, what is the rush? Let us help them to fit in naturally.

  20. I love this article. I am praying people will understand. This is a generation that rushes everything. We skip so many things and we are in danger.

  21. @Rhoda Odigboh, your view is totally right though some might dispute it.

    I can feel your burden, concern, passion(fear) especially for the today’s child. And I believe it’s high time we all as educators, school owners, administrators,parents etc stand up for what is right even if it’s not the general opinion .

    And we all can start in our small c

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