Recent research has shown significant gaps in the language and social abilities of Danish children when they enter their first year of schooling. In some cases, students enter school with linguistic abilities that are two years behind their actual age.
KL has proposed mandatory language testing for all three-year-olds as a way to identify those children who are behind for their age group and then provide them with the additional help they need.
“It is a gigantic problem. We need to invest early so we can save these children,” Anna Mee Allerslev, the chairwoman of KL’s youth committee, told Politiken.
Currently, only children who have been singled out by daycare staff as having potential language problems are screened.
KL’s plan would call for all children to undergo a ten to 30 minute test in their local daycare institution in which the facility’s normal staff would have the kids look at pictures and describe what they see. According to the organization’s estimate, implementation of the programme would cost 11 million kroner per year.
Reaction to the proposal was mixed. Dorthe Bleses, a professor at the children’s research centre at Aarhus University, said the mandatory screening plan is “sensible”.
“We need to admit that there are significant numbers of children whose linguistic development is not adequately supported in daycare because it is hard to find the [problem] children without a test and because not all institutions have a strong enough focus on creating the right learning environment,” she told Politiken.
The Danish Union of Early Childhood and Youth Educators (BUPL) however said that the testing would be a bureaucratic nightmare and would put additional pressure on the daycare system, which has seen significant budget and staffing cuts in recent years. According to the union, there are 4,400 fewer pedagogues now than in 2009.
“I would have hoped that KL would address that, for example in the form of staffing where it is most needed,” the union’s charwoman, Elisa Bergmann, told news agency Ritzau. “If we’re going to help vulnerable children, it takes a lot more than good linguistic development.”
The national parents' organization FOLA also expressed its resistance to the plan.
“We shouldn't test our children. We should observe them,” FOLA chairwoman Louise Gjervig Lehn told broadcaster DR. “The problem with a test is that we only test children on their technical abilities. But children develop differently and are unique.”
Allerslev, however, said that identifying linguistic problems early in life is necessary if the kids are going to have a chance later on.
“We know from research that a three-year-old child of well-educated parents has heard 30 million more words than a child of poorly-education parents,” she added. “Therefore we can the linguistic screening of three-year-olds to be written into law.”