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11 The influence of kindergarten
education on subsequent
achievement in Grade One
The purpose of this study is to evaluate the effectiveness of kindergartens in
Oman. Accordingly, I plan to identify benefits for children’s development withregard to the first year of subsequent education, exploring the views of Grade 1teachers, who have, in their classes, children with experience of kindergarten as wellas those without.
The popularity of kindergartens in Oman has risen markedly since 1977, when
His Majesty issued a royal decree regulating private schools (Ministry of Education- MoE, 2003a). While there were just two kindergartens in 1973, by 2005 there were158, educating 9,429 children aged 4-5 years old, approximately 7% of the childrenin this age group in the country (MoE, 2005). In relation to population size, thenumber of kindergartens in Muscat, the capital, where I conducted the research, ishigher than average (MoE, 2006), which I suspect might relate to economic factorsas well as parents’ education levels.
Kindergartens can be distinguished from other types of pre-school education in
Oman, such as Holy Quran schools. These provide initial education, including theprinciples of Islam, reading and writing in Arabic, and some elementary arithmeticfor young children of both sexes.
Teaching in Holy Quran schools, following traditions that have been established
over hundreds of years (Noorani, 2003), can take place in various locations, e.g.;under the shade of trees, in mosques or courtyards. Kindergartens, in contrast,while also based on Islamic and human values, such as honesty and respect, aremore formalized and are housed in purpose built buildings. Though fees vary, theytend to be more expensive, with fewer students per class (not more than 20).
Teachers use educational games often considered suitable for children'sdevelopment at a cognitive, emotional and social level (Lawati, 2005).
Since, for most families, their primary goal is to empower their children to
become independent, self-confident and responsible, issues of whether or not it isworth sending their children to kindergarten are important. The development ofchildren and their well-being is also of national importance as these children willprovide the cornerstone upon which the nations’ wealth is based for generations tocome. Therefore, it is worth exploring the extent to which kindergartens helpsupport children’s development, particularly since scant attention has been paid byresearchers to this topic, particularly in Oman. The private schools’ conference in2003 called for enrolments at kindergarten level to be increased, which supports the‘Education for All’ national directive (MoE, 2003b). I wish to draw attention to theissue of kindergartens by undertaking this research.
Studies conducted in Britain strongly suggest that children benefit greatly from
early learning experience. For example, the Child Health and Education study'sresults show that children who attended playground, private nursery or localeducation authority nursery scored higher on tests of cognitive functioning and onlanguage than those who did not (Osborn et al, 1984; Clark, 1988). Similarly,children who experienced pre-school education performed better at age seven infour subjects (English, Maths, Science and Technology) at Key Stage One of theNational Curriculum (Shorrocks et al., 1992).
Admittedly, Tizard & Hughes (1984) found that language interactions at home
with adults were more stimulating than those conducted at nursery. Indeed, theyargue that social, physical, musical and creative activities are mostly developed atnursery schools, while children's basic verbal-cognitive skills are mostly developedat home. However, in my opinion this is not always true since many children spenda lot of time with their peers and teacher in the preschool classes, doing manyactivities such as acting and playing, which help develop language ability.
Various benefits accrued from attending kindergarten have been identified,
including readiness for school. Jowett & Sylva (1986) found that kindergartenchildren were better prepared linguistically, more sociable, more likely to interactwith their teachers, more independent and more settled. They also perseveredlonger on challenging tasks and were more motivated. According to Goodman &Sianesi (2005), who measured development at entry to school and at the end ofGrade One, benefits include independence, concentration, sociability, as well aschildren's literacy and numeracy development. Furthermore, as these children aremore socially developed, there is a resultant reduction in behavioural problems(Ball, 1994).
Studies in the United States have produced similar findings. Outcomes of
attending kindergarten include better overall school performance, improved jobprospects and self-esteem (Lazar & Darlington, 1982; Woodhead, 1985). Children
learn certain cognitive skills such as attentiveness to teachers, ability to followinstructions and perseverance in completing tasks. This has a very positive impactwhen they enter Grade One. They can do classroom activities, adapt to classroomprocedures, and are more prone to learning new skills and doing schoolwork (Lazar& Darlington, 1982). Children with early education experience were compared withthose who had stayed at home by the High/Scope Perry pre-school study, whichtraced the children’s development until the age of 27. Kindergarten children didbetter than their peers, spending less time in remedial classes, showing greater self-esteem and completing courses. In adulthood, they were more likely to have jobs,own homes, earn good salaries and less likely to be involved in crime, drug abuseor teenage pregnancies (Schweinhart et al., 1993, as cited in Ball, 1994).
Unfortunately, very few studies on the effectiveness of pre-school education and
its subsequent impact on children at later stages have been conducted in Arabiccountries. The few that are available do not involve Oman. In Egypt, Azza (2002)found a strong correlation between the play activities of kindergarten (both outdoorand indoor), and readiness, in terms of reading development, in Grade One. Inanother study, Kuwaiti kindergarten teachers were asked to rank in order ofimportance six purposes of kindergarten education (aesthetics, home extension,social, physical, intellectual and national/religious purposes) (Nashif, 1985).
Children's social, physical and intellectual developments were ranked highest.
Other studies in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Bahrain show a range of benefits forchildren in pre-school education. These include: significant reduction in laterbehavioural and learning problems; lower levels of absenteeism; less likelihood ofgrade retention and greater social and emotional maturity (Arab LeagueEducational Cultural and Scientific Organization, 2000).
To summarize, it would appear that many experts would concur on the
importance of pre-school education on a child's life. They reveal that children havepositive short and long-term effects from pre-school education in their cognitive,social, emotional and physical development. In addition, they indicate that childrenwith preschool experience are more ready for school and less likely to havebehavioural problems. However, these benefits depend on the quality of theprovision of the pre-school education programme. For example, the 'Cost, Qualityand Child Outcomes' study shows that children who received poor quality childcare were less prepared for school and tended to have less success in the earlyphases of schooling than those students who had received high quality care in theirpre-school years (Peisner-Feinberg et al., 2000).
As they acquire knowledge, children need to be able to learn about themselves
through play (Adas, 2001) and the environment is important. Suitable facilities arerequired, and in Oman these include materials, equipment and toys. The buildingshould be roomy, well lit and aired, the walls painted with calm and soothingcolours and the furniture well arranged and appropriate. There should beeducational corners; art and science areas, quiet areas in the library corner wherechildren can read, write and listen, noisy areas, such as for dramatic play. Safety andsecurity requirements, such as fire extinguisher and first aid kit, should also beavailable in each building (MoE, 1996).
Outside, the kindergarten playground area should be securely fenced and
contain covered sections for play. It should have in place equipment or games forswinging, climbing, sliding and crawling that strengthen a child's body, as well asmoveable toys. The outdoor environment should include gardening, sandbox andwater play areas and areas for digging, where children can discover the differencesbetween dry and wet soil, and creatures, such as worms and insects. Also, theoutdoor area should contain a large-sized pen for animals like hens, rabbits, birdsand cats (MoE, 1996).
Not all Omani kindergartens offer all these facilities. Indeed, only a few are able
to, to very high standards. Omani kindergartens differ in the provision of facilities,ranging from high to low quality. They are private and do not get support from thegovernment.
The Research Questions
1. What is the effect of attending kindergarten on learning, as evident in Grade One
2. Do young learners who have attended kindergarten interact differently in social
settings (like the school playground and cafeteria) to those children who havenot?
3. What are the views of Grade One teachers who deal with both sets of children?
To address these questions, I focused on Grade One teachers and learners in
Elementary schools. I surveyed 164 Grade One teachers (out of approximately 300)through a questionnaire that made use of stratified random sampling (Robson,2002), with larger samples taken from schools with larger teacher populations. 152questionnaires were returned. To test literacy skills, I used a random sample of 90pupils from 5 schools; a control group of 55, who had attended kindergarten and anon-control group of 35, who had not. I also interviewed 10 teachers, usingpurposive sampling (Cohen, Manion & Morrison, 2000). My previous position ashead of section in the Private Schools Department within the Ministry of Educationhelped me gain the cooperation of schools and teachers.
I used three research methods; questionnaires, tests and interviews.
Questionnaires, firstly, provide a simple and straightforward way of samplingattitudes, values, beliefs and motives. However, they do not allow for probing,prompting or clarification of questions (Burns, 2000). I designed and piloted myquestionnaire carefully, including both open and closed questions, making use of aLikert Scale.
Secondly, I used semi-structured interviews for their flexibility and for the
richness of in-depth data they can provide, while recognizing there is anopportunity for bias to occur as the interview is face-to-face (Burns, 2000). Before theinterviews, I established a good rapport with the teachers through brief meetings,explaining the purpose of the research and eliciting cooperation. Some interviewswere recorded, while others were paraphrased, as not all teachers wanted to berecorded.
For the third method, a short test was designed to assess literacy skills in Arabic.
This was administrated with the cooperation of one of the Arabic languagesupervisors, after permission was sought from the parents of the childrenparticipating. The test contained eleven questions, such as matching pairs of items,inserting missing words, and circling words and/or letters. An answer key wasprovided. Students answered individually using pencils within a given time period.
Where necessary, questions were explained to those students who requestedassistance.
Analysing the data
Qualitative and quantitative data were analysed according to methods
recommended by Wilkinson & Birmingham (2003). For quantitative data, I used theStatistical Package for Social Sciences (SPSS), with code numbers assigned toresponses; 5 for strongly agree, 4 for agree, 3 for neutral, 2 for disagree and 1 forstrongly disagree. For the test method, the marks for each question were writtendirectly into SPSS. However, qualitative data from the interviews and openquestions in the questionnaires were analyzed using the deductive method.
Responses to each question were copied onto sheets of paper, similarities werenoted and comparisons and contrasts made.
In this section, I present the findings obtained from the three methods used for
data collection; questionnaire, interview, and test.
This section is based on 152 questionnaires completed by Grade One teachers.
All the findings are presented in percentages. Data are presented below accordingto the five sections of the questionnaire (school readiness, literacy skills, numericskills, social behaviour and general competence).
Table 1 (below) summarizes the results regarding school readiness.
Key: SA= strongly agree, A= agree, N= neutral, D= disagree, SD= strongly
Key: SA= strongly agree, A= agree, N= neutral, D= disagree, SD= strongly disagree
Clearly, the great majority of teachers surveyed agreed that the control group
(those with kindergarten experience) were far more ready for school than the non-control group. There was 86% - 96% agreement on the four items that kindergartenchildren were ready for school. In contrast, only a small minority agreed thatchildren without kindergarten experience were ready. Indeed, there was less than8% agreement that the non-control group was familiar with the school environment(item 2), and scores on items 3 & 4 were only slightly higher.
Table 2 below summarizes the findings regarding literacy skills.
Clearly, the teachers believed that the control group had better developed
literacy skills. Indeed, the majority of the teachers agreed with all six statements.
The lowest scores were for reading a lot of familiar words (52% agreement) andwriting the letters of words easily (55.2%). The non-control group also scored loweston these two items, gaining 2.6% and 2% agreement from the teachers respectively.
This represents a highly significant difference. The non-control group scored highestin knowing how to hold a pencil or crayon correctly (11.2%). There was 89.4%agreement that the control group could do this.
Table 3 below summarizes the findings regarding numeric skills.
Clearly, students with kindergarten experience perform much better in areas
involving numeric skills than those without. There is over 80% agreement thatkindergarten children can recognize and write basic numbers, but less than 12%agreement that children without this experience can (items 11 & 13). In the view ofGrade One teachers, there are similar wide differences in the abilities of thesegroups to recite basic numbers and understand the underlying concepts (items 12 &14). However, item 15 created some uncertainty amongst them, perhaps because itwas phrased negatively.
Table 4 below summarizes the findings regarding social behaviour.
22 Has respect for others’ Non-control 2.0
With regard to social behaviour, it seems clear that the great majority of the
teachers regarded the control group as more developed, as is evident in Table 4. Thekindergarten children scored much higher in relationship-building, interaction,cooperation and participation. Their lowest scores were for respecting others’ needsand wishes, and behaving well with others, but even so most teachers(approximately 70%) agreed their behaviour in these respects was positive.
In contrast, the non-control group students were regarded as most developed in
terms of their participation in play activities (38.8%) and in groupwork (30.9%).
There was only 21% agreement that they established good relationships withclassmates and teachers and just 15.1% agreement that they participated in schoolevents.
Table 5 below summarizes the findings regarding general competence.
Following the same pattern that has emerged in all previous sections, the results
in Table 5 indicate more positive views of control group abilities and behaviour.
Thus, the majority of the teachers felt the kindergarten children achieved high testsscores and could pay attention for a long period of time (items 26 & 28), while onlyapproximately one eighth of the teachers felt these statements were true of the non-control group. Clearly, the teachers felt the general competence of the kindergartenchildren was higher.
At the end of the questionnaire, there were two questions inviting further
comments. The majority of responses reflect the pattern that has emerged. Mostfrequent positive points relating to the control group were: children with preschoolexperience are more self-confident and independent; they have well-developedmotor skills; they respect others’ property and take care of their belongings; andhave more well developed personalities as compared with their peers who have notattended kindergarten. However, they also mentioned negative points in relation tothe same group. Some students were reported as forming letters in the wrong way,following the wrong direction, with the result that the teacher had to undo thelearning that had taken place in the kindergarten with a resultant loss of time.
The results of the literacy test, conducted with 90 pupils, would seem to
demonstrate that those students with kindergarten experience had better developedliteracy skills. The mean score of the control group was 18.98 out of 22, while it was16.12 for the non-control group. While females in both groups performed better thanmales, control group males did better than non-control group females.
Table 6: The mean scores in the literacy test
Findings will be presented according to the questions asked the interviewees.
What do you think are the outcomes of pre-school education?
The majority of the 10 teachers interviewed felt outcomes were positive, citing
readiness for school, social development and linguistic knowledge as benefits. Forexample, one said: "Children become well-prepared and know the system of theschool." Another noted: "Children who have attended kindergartens mingle easilywith their peers and teacher. They know the alphabetic letters and their sounds."
However, a few respondents mentioned some negative outcomes of preschool
education. For example, some students hold the pencil incorrectly and are confusedregarding the names of letters and their sounds. The reason for these negativeoutcomes is unclear. It may depend on the quality of preschool programmes theyhave been exposed to, relate to individual reasons or reflect on the quality ofteachers who have taught them and their lack of experience. Many kindergartenteachers are not specifically trained to teach at this level.
How effective do you think pre-school education is, in helping
children achieve in Grade One?
All respondents answered ‘very effective’, except one who chose ‘quite effective’.
Is it important to enrol a child at kindergarten level? Why?
None of the respondents answered negatively to this question. All agreed that
parents should enrol their children in kindergartens. They cited many advantages.
The most frequent ones were: to enable children to adjust to the school environment,be sociable, acquire some learning skills, develop cognitive skills, learn correctdiscipline, and build up their personality. One of the respondents said: "it is a chancefor a child to get used to being away from his/her mummy." Another stressed that:"it is good for the children to get an idea about what school is; its environment,
teachers and students." One of the teachers emphasized: "attending kindergartenshelps children gain firm and neat handwriting, strengthens their memory skills andhelps them acquire a lot of knowledge."
Are children who have been to pre-school better prepared for
school - socially and academically?
All interviewees responded positively. With regard to social preparation, they
pointed out that children with preschool experience participate a lot more in schooland class activities. One stated: "some children who came from kindergartenparticipate in the school broadcasting (morning assembly)." In addition, ninerespondents mentioned that these children can interact and cooperate easily withtheir friends and teachers. Another said: "most of the preschool children are moreable to make friends and form relationships in and outside the class."
From an academic point of view, all respondents stressed that children with
preschool experience know the alphabetic letters, their sounds and forms, and howto make words from letters. Also, the majority pointed out that these children knowhow to hold the pencil correctly; know the numbers and colours; know how to writetheir names; understand instructions; and can tell stories from pictures.
Without looking at a student's records, are you generally able
to predict during the early days of the school year which children
have attended pre-school from their behaviour, discipline or skills?
Early in the school year, sometimes even on the first day, Grade One teachers
perceive a pronounced difference between children who have had preschoolexperience and children who have not. All respondents said they can tell, evenwithout looking at a student’s records, which children in their classrooms have beento preschool. They base this on observations of the children’s behaviour and skillsin certain areas; from their interaction with their classmates, from the way they holdthe pencil, how they answer questions, recognize the sound of the letters and fromtheir reactions in class. One respondent said: "Yes, I know them. They come happyto the class, not shy and always talking with their peers."
What are the differences between students who have attended
pre-school and those who have not?
A frequent response was that those with preschool experience are more literate.
One commented: "Students with a preschool background are good in theirhandwriting, able to make words from letters and have good vocabulary." Anothersaid: "I have a girl who attended kindergarten last year. She is the first to raise herhand when I asked my students to identify letters of the alphabet." Moreover, theyare more sociable, more ready for school, more active, self-confident and well-disciplined. Another teacher said: "Children who have attended kindergarten aremore mature socially and physically. They are quick to interact and makerelationships with others."
On the other hand, students without preschool experience are perceived to be
unsociable; take longer to settle in class and also take considerably more time tointeract with their peers both in and out of class; are weak in their literacy skills; andare more prone to be absent. One respondent criticized: "In my class, children whohave not attended preschool do not know the alphabetic letters; they are shy andcry. They always want to go home and they fall further behind."
What are the problems that you face with students who have
not attended kindergarten?
All respondents stated that too much effort and time is devoted to ensuring that
students without preschool experience settle into class as quickly as possible, holdthe pencil correctly, correct their writing, become sociable, write properly and learnthe alphabet. Thus, they face difficulties in covering the aims and content of eachlesson. One respondent mentioned: "I face difficulty in balancing my work withchildren who have preschool experience and those who have not. Some of themshow home-sickness and are always crying, so I sometimes spend a third of theperiod calming them."
This section, based upon the findings reported above, presents answers to the
research questions and then reflections.
What is the effect of attending kindergarten on learning, as
evident in Grade One children?
Clearly, teachers believe that children benefit from attending kindergarten. The
first advantage cited is school readiness. The majority of respondents in bothquestionnaire and interview findings were convinced that children’s readiness forGrade One is substantially greater when children have participated in a preschoolprogramme in the year before they begin their elementary schooling. These childrencome ready and well-prepared for school. They enjoy going to school, exhibit nofear, are confident and independent and aware that school is a place where they canlearn and play. They also quickly settle into the class routine. This confirms Jowett& Sylva’s (1986) findings about kindergarten supporting school readiness.
In addition, results indicate that students with pre-school experience are better
prepared academically. Most had high scores in the literacy test conducted, scoringbetter than their peers, as they already had a firmer foundation in linguisticknowledge. They were familiar with the alphabetic letters and with reading andwriting words. Similarly, Shorrocks et al. (1992) found that children who have hadthe opportunity to attend preschool scored higher on educational assessment thanthose who had not been afforded the opportunity. In kindergartens, children learnabout numbers and their uses; thus, most of the respondents showed highagreement in relation to preschoolers' numeric skills. This also confirms Neuman &Roskos’ (2005) claims that attending pre-schooling develops children’s literacy andnumeric skills. These children already have skills that a Grade One teacher can buildupon. Moreover, the findings would appear to indicate other positive outcomes
from attending pre-school education. Children are seen to be more self-confidentand independent. They can answer questions and talk about themselves freely.
However, a few respondents, in both the interview and the open question section
of the questionnaires, made reference to some negative outcomes. Firstly, somestudents confuse the name of a letter and its sound, and write some lettersincorrectly. In addition, some students hold the pencil incorrectly.
Do young learners who have attended kindergarten interact
differently in social settings (like the school playground and
cafeteria) to those children who have not?
From the responses provided in both the questionnaire and interview, the
answer to this question can be classified as positive. Students with preschoolexperience are viewed as being more sociable than those who have not. The variousfacilities available in kindergartens allow children to participate and interact indifferent activities through sharing and playing with others. Hence, this strengthensrelationships, develops behavior and teaches them how to control aggression (Laddet al., 1999). As a result, more than 91% of the participants responded positively tothe question that children with preschool education are better able to establishrelationships with their classmates and teachers, interact more readily and are moreco-operative, and participate to a far greater degree in all play activities than thosewho have no preschool experience.
Moreover, they are also more willing to participate in groupwork, and in class
and school activities such as the school assembly. In contrast, children withoutkindergarten experience are afraid of mingling with others and playing with them,especially outside class. Furthermore, interview responses indicate thatpreschoolers are well-disciplined, show respect for others, whereas some studentswithout preschool education are not kind to their peers.
What are the views of Grade One teachers who deal with
both sets of children?
The above analysis reveals that most Grade One teachers are more comfortable
with those children who have attended kindergarten than with those who have not.
They are in favour of kindergarten attendance, pointing out that preschoolexperience can save the teacher a lot of time and effort. However, because of theirneed to work on the basic skills of the children who have not had the benefit ofpreschool, this results in them having less time to focus on the more advancedstudents.
Despite the clear advantages of preschool education, I would argue that benefits
depend very much on both the quality of the preschool and its facilities. A numberof interviewees made reference to this point. In addition, also important areindividual differences in the children and the quality of teachers responsible forteaching them.
While these findings are very much in favour of kindergartens, I should
introduce a note of caution. Firstly, findings may have been influenced by theresearcher's positive view of the advantages of pre-schooling, which may haveaffected the phrasing of questions, reducing the study’s reliability. Secondly, whileit could be argued that pre-schooling is generally a good thing for children, theremay be the odd exception. For instance, for psychological or cognitive reasons,kindergarten may come too soon for some children. We should accept that childrenare individuals and have individual differences. Furthermore, I have not presentedevidence to support an argument that would negate the advantages accrued tochildren by not attending pre-schooling, which could suggest I have approached theresearch in a limited and biased way. It occurs to me that other participants, such asprincipals, supervisors and parents (and from other parts of the country), mighthave varying views on this topic, and that I could have approached it differently toelicit a broader range of opinions.
IMPLICATIONS AND CONCLUSIONS
Despite the limitations of the research, referred to in 5.4 (above), I would argue
that preschool education plays an important and significant role in developingchildren's skills cognitively, socially, emotionally and physically. Accordingly, Iwould make the following recommendations:
Firstly, attendance at kindergarten level should be prerequisite for every child in
Oman. Secondly, the government should encourage parents to enrol their childrenin kindergarten. This can be done by: a) opening free kindergarten classes in everygovernment school in all the regions of Oman or by b) providing financial supportfor those schools that include preschool education such as kindergartens in privateschools. This would allow them to invest more in such programmes and also assistthem in covering their expenses. Such support can be provided in different ways,such as by paying staff salaries or children's fees, by providing the necessaryfacilities and resources or by exempting the kindergartens from taxes.
Also, the Ministry of Education should support these kindergartens both
technically and administratively in order to ensure they have high-qualityprogrammes. In addition, the Ministry of Education should conduct in-servicetraining programmes or workshops for kindergarten teachers.
Also, there is a need to enlighten society about the importance of kindergarten
education (as only 7% currently benefit from it). This could be done by the Ministryof Education in coordination with other ministries and UNICEF. Strategies couldinclude developing specific educational programs and broadcasting them throughTV, radio, newspapers and magazines; distributing leaflets that discuss in detail theadvantages of pre-schooling to every household in the country; establishinginformation centres in every region with qualified staff in attendance who wouldadvise parents on preschool education.
Next, the Ministry of Education should organize televised local conferences
focusing on the importance of pre-schooling and its benefits. Educationalists,
psychologists and experts from different countries could be invited to present theirfindings to private and government school headteachers, teachers, students andparents.
Finally, further investigations should be conducted into the effectiveness of
kindergartens through semi-structured interviews, questionnaires and longitudinalcase studies. More in-depth research is needed in this area.
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9.2.1921 Bericht eines Reisenden aus Jerusalem, der am 2. Februar nach mehrmonatlichem Aufenthalt in Berlineingetroffen ist18.1.1927 Entwicklung des zionistischen Aufbauwerkes in 7.7.1927 Schwierigkeiten im zionistischen Aufbauwerk Palästinas15.11.1927 Das Zionistische Siedlungsunternehmen in Palästina12.1.1928 Arabisches Parteiwesen in Palästina und Syrien28.4.1928 Erregung der arabische
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