C-section crunch in China: Why the rush to be born early?

Updated: 2011-09-09 13:30

By Nelly Min (chinadaily.com.cn)

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Every year around the end of August, maternity wards all over China are crowded with mothers-to-be waiting for Cesarean sections. The reason for this sudden rise in babies is the cutoff birth date for children to start school is Aug 31. Many mothers do not want to wait an extra year to enroll their children in school. Some say it’s because they don't want their sons or daughters to be the oldest kid in the class, and to "step into society later."

Why the rush? I don't understand the urge to push your child into society earlier than absolutely necessary. Given a choice, wouldn't everyone prefer to prolong childhood? What is wrong with being a kindergartener for one extra year?

In Hungary, if a child doesn't seem ready for school by the end of kindergarten, parents have the option to let the child spend an extra year in kindergarten. What a great system!

Some say basing a child's readiness for school on age is reckless and irresponsible, especially when that readiness varies according to cultural background, personality and gender. Research also shows that boys have more difficulty adjusting than girls. Some educationalists even suggest that it's better to go to school too late rather than too early.

My son is considered one of the unfortunate children whose birthday falls in October, as he will be forced to wait an extra year to begin his school career. I couldn't be more grateful. Even though he is taller than his kindergarten classmates and can easily pass for 5 or 6, I can't think of any reason to push him up to primary school one year early just so he won't be older than his classmates. Some of his buddies will be pushed into starting school early despite the age cutoff, as moms and dads impatient for them to start will try to find ways to skirt the rules.

In China, kindergarten/preschool is hard enough. Unlike preschool children in the US, who are merely preparing to learn, kids here actually have real lessons on reading and writing. In the US, young children in preschool programs learn colors and numbers. They identify common objects and letters of the alphabet to prepare them for reading. They sing and play games that use numbers and shapes. They learn to cooperate with teachers and other children. Many of them visit places like zoos and museums.

My 3-year-old son does all that here at his preschool, plus he gets assigned homework to learn how to write. In my opinion it is way too early, as he can barely hold a pencil in his little hand. And he doesn't yet have the attention span required for such work. In my mind, he is at least two years away. To me it's more important that he learn social skills, such as playing nice and respecting his teachers. And if he gets one extra year in which to learn those skills, lucky for him! School will be over soon enough.

"Stepping into society" means the reality of jobs, bills and all the responsibility that comes with being a functioning adult. Why would anyone want to jump into that early? Is there any benefit whatsoever to being a 21-year-old intern over a 22-year-old intern? I say, let's put off the reality as long as possible. Kindergarten: finger painting, zoo trips and playing with Legos. Primary school: hours of homework and rote memorization. To me, that's a no-brainer.

Nelly Min is an editor at China Daily website.