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The first year in formal schooling improves working memory and academic abilities

Davidson, Christina; Shing, Yee Lee; McKay, Courtney; Rafetseder, Eva; Wijeakumar, Sobanawartiny


Christina Davidson

Yee Lee Shing

Courtney McKay

Eva Rafetseder


Neurocognition and academic abilities during the period of 4 and 7 years of age are impacted by both the transition from kindergarten to primary school and age-related developmental processes. Here, we used a school cut-off design to tease apart the impact of formal schooling from age, on working memory (WM) function, vocabulary, and numeracy scores. We compared two groups of children with similar age, across two years: first-graders (FG), who were enrolled into primary school the year that they became eligible and kindergarteners (KG), who were deferred school entry until the following year. All children completed a change detection task while brain activation was recorded using portable functional near-infrared spectroscopy, a vocabulary assessment, and a numeracy screener. Our results revealed that FG children showed greater improvement in WM performance and greater engagement of a left-lateralized fronto-parietal network compared to KG children. Further, they also showed higher gains in vocabulary and non-symbolic numeracy scores. This improvement in vocabulary and non-symbolic numeracy scores following a year in primary school was predicted by WM function. Our findings contribute to a growing body of literature examining neurocognitive and academic benefits conferred to children following exposure to formal schooling.


Davidson, C., Shing, Y. L., McKay, C., Rafetseder, E., & Wijeakumar, S. (2023). The first year in formal schooling improves working memory and academic abilities. Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, 60, Article 101205.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jan 26, 2023
Online Publication Date Jan 29, 2023
Publication Date 2023-04
Deposit Date Mar 14, 2023
Publicly Available Date Mar 14, 2023
Journal Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience
Publisher Elsevier
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 60
Article Number 101205
Public URL
Publisher URL


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