What Does a Six-year-old Learn in Pre-primary School Training? A Case Study

Cindy is very busy during this summer vacation, thanks much to the pre-primary school training which aims at preparing her better for Grade 1 starting in September. You may ask: Who is she? What is pre-primary school training? What does she learn from it? Why should she do that? Did I do the same thing when I was at her age fourteen years ago? This article is going to answer these questions through a case study.

Who is Cindy?

Cindy is six years old this year (2022), whose family live just next to mine. She is now living with her parents, grandparents, and younger brother. In September, she will begin to study in the primary school located in our community like most children in the neighborhood, according to the “going to school nearby” educational policy.

I got to know Cindy on the day she was born. Since she was three, I have played with her every weekend. In other words, we are very familiar with each other and become really close friends despite the age gap.

The education system of my country is always widely-discussed due to its stark contrast with those in many other areas. As a “product” of this controversial education, I do have to say my feelings about it as a whole. Its strengths and its weaknesses are complicated or even self-contradictory. Meanwhile, I have been eager to find out whether or not some changes have taken place, what its influence on the younger generation is, as well as how parents and students adapt to it. Therefore, because of my familiarity with Cindy’s growth in these six years and my interest in the current education system, I decided to conduct a case study, this time concentrating on her pre-primary school training.

What is pre-primary school training?

Actually, there is not a standard course called “pre-primary school training” as a mandatory requirement. Instead, it refers to all sorts of classes children take in preparation for their Grade 1 study.

There are basically two general categories of these classes. One is those provided by private educational institutions, while the other is offered by kindergarten. If we classify them based on “subject”, then they usually target at 1)Chinese characters 2)Chinese pinyin 3)Maths 4)English. In many cases, 1) and 2) are incorporated into one class. Certainly, children enroll in classes for other skills rather than academic knowledge, such as painting, dancing and swimming, whereas these are not the foci of this article.

Cindy’s parents are both occupied with work, and her grandparents cannot take care of two children at one time. As a result, she has to go to kindergarten even in the two-month summer vacation, where she receives pre-primary school training.

What does she learn from the pre-primary school training?

Cindy takes three kinds of classes: Maths, Chinese characters (plus pinyin) and English. Each of them uses a textbook and a workbook for homework.


Looking at the contents of the Maths textbook in Cindy’s pre-primary school classes, we could find there are three sections in general: basic mathematical concepts, simple addition as well as subtraction within ten, and introduction to different shapes.

Basic mathematical concepts include “tall” versus “short”, “thin” versus “thick”, “heavy” versus “light”, “far” versus “near.” These are presented in a direct way with pictures to help comprehension.

Addition and subtraction within ten does occupy an important part in the whole course, since it lays the foundations of more advanced calculation skills in the future.

Picture 3 is an example of the illustration of shapes in this textbook.

Besides, Cindy is required to finish exercise on the workbook after class to better internalize what she has learned.

Afterwards, I turned to examine the Maths textbook for Grade 1 to see what Cindy is supposed to learn from September onwards. I soon came to realize that the pre-primary school training covers half of it, which means she will feel Maths class easy in the first half of the term. The second half will introduce addition and subtraction within 20, as well as how to read a clock.

Chinese characters and pinyin

Pinyin is, basically a set of romanized rules to transcribe the pronunciation of Chinese characters using 25 English letters (and “ü”) except “v.” Pinyin is used in two ways. For one thing, it can help children to learn characters more easily and read independently. For another, most of the Chinese people type Chinese characters based on pinyin rules using an English keyboard. Consequently, it is one of the very first things that are taught in the first term of Grade 1, as the textbook indicates.

Whereas Cindy told me proudly one day that she has already learned all pinyin. I read through the textbook in pre-primary school training which totally covers all rules of pinyin.

Speaking of Chinese characters, lessons in kindergarten pay much attention to correct ways to write each stroke and correct sequences of different strokes in a character. In addition, quite a few simple characters are included in the curriculum.

Nevertheless, Cindy is good at leaning new characters and she knows a multitude of them much more complicated than those taught during the training. I would say she has no difficulty reading all short articles and poems in the Grade 1 textbook.


The kindergarten Cindy is studying in is partially funded by a foreign educational organization, and thus it incorporates basic English in class. Moreover, before the pre-primary school training Cindy once signed up for an extra English class, where she was supposed to learn some most simple vocabularies and common expressions. In terms of the materials for pre-primary school training, her kindergarten chooses Get Set, Go! Oxford English.

While it seems that Cindy’s level of English should be better compared with other children not undertaking so many pre-school English lessons, her actual progress turns out to be quite limited. A few times I tried to start a short conversation with her in English, such as “Good Morning” “How’s your day been?” She did not respond. Moreover, the exercise she finished suggests that perhaps the Oxford English is a little bit too difficult.

Whereas there is nothing to worry about because an overwhelming majority of schools have English classes beginning from grade 3. Even though some schools (including the one she is going to study in) introduce English from Grade 1, it is not related to academic performance and I do not suppose there is any English exam.

Why should she take pre-primary school training?

As we have seen, the one thing Cindy does during the training is to learn what she is going to learn in advance. I call it a “learning in advance” rule, based on which parents prompt their children to take cram school so that they are more likely to get higher marks in exams. I once discussed this topic with friends and parents and I asked what the meaning of lessons in school is if everyone comes to school knowing very well what the teacher is going to lecture. They contented that this will affect teachers’ attitudes towards classes since some may spare their efforts when preparing the class and catching students’ attention with the presumption that students are just doing a kind of repetition.

I also wondered whether I can free my future children from “learning in advance training.” Yet I soon realized that it would be incredibly challenging. We cannot stop society from becoming increasingly competitive, or other parents doing so. My children will probably be left far behind, which can give rise to many other problems. For example, how to support children’s confidence in such circumstances? How to help them sustain their enthusiasm for study?

Nevertheless, my friends reminded me that perhaps nowadays marks in exams do not bother primary school children as much as they did in our times. Due to recent relevant regulations, it is said that scoring in primary school should adopt level-grading (using “A”, “B”…) rather than specific marks (99, 95, etc.) as in the past. Consequently, given the fact that exams for primary pupils are very easy, my 10-year-old cousin told me that most of them got an A in all subjects. Then why is pre-school training so popular? I would say it should be mostly attributed to prevailing anxiety among parents. Such a “learning in advance” rule is ongoing from primary school to high school, as many as 12 years altogether. What’s more, junior and senior high school and most importantly, the University Entrance Examination still uses actual marks rather than levels to score. Even a gap as minor as one point can severely hamper students’ confidence or change their life when they apply for universities and choose undergraduate courses. In this case, anxiety makes “learning in advance” more or less like a mandatory requirement.

Did I do the same thing when I was six?

I did not, and most of my classmates did not either. I remember like it was yesterday that we listened really carefully to Mrs. Long, our Chinese teacher, when she read pinyin slowly and loudly in the noise of fans in the stuffy classroom, when she wrote pinyin beautifully on the background, when she corrected our hilarious mistakes on the workbook in bright red pen… Honestly, that question made me realize all of a sudden that we were under a much slighter burden than Cindy is today, and that how dramatically the society evolves even though it never occurred to me before. Deeply, I feel grateful, but I become worried as well.


This case study is far from the end of my research into educational system in my country. Pre-primary school training is definitely a tip of an iceberg, because there are many more topics to think, ask, and discuss about middle school education, the body part of the iceberg. These days, Cindy is quite excited about her new life in September. Indeed, that is the start of a twelve years’ journey which will exert a life-changing influence on her. It should be an exciting thing.