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Early Education Seeks To Create High Quality Human Capital

Last update: 25/03/2013
By Sakini Mohd Said

KUALA LUMPUR, March 25 (Bernama) -- In the past, not many parents were enthusiastic about sending their children to early education programmes, deeming it inappropriate.

For these parents, children were better off being given the freedom to play, in the belief that education should start only after children reach the age of five or six years.

The rationale was: What's wrong with allowing children to play, since once they start the period of schooling, their time will be packed full with academic activities, anyways?

This trend of thinking, although not shared by all parents, could have stemmed from a lack of exposure and information on the importance of early education or preschool.

However, this line of thinking is also becoming outdated and, indeed, in line with a fundamental shift combined with new ideas presented by a borderless, global world, many pre-school centres have been set up, catering to a growing demand by parents.

Whether this reflects the government's or private sector initiatives, parents today have "opened their eyes" to the importance of early education.

Nevertheless, a question does arise about whether early education, seen as a platform for the intellectual development of children, to a certain extent robs children of their care free days and, in turn, burdens them with the pressure of studying at a very young age?

LESSONS THROUGH PLAYING

Not necessarily so, says a member of the Malaysian Children Hope Foundation Board of Advisers, Datuk Atikah Adom.

"We don't ask them (the children) to study, but advocate the concept of learning through play, as they are children."

Parents might expect more, as nothing could be greater than seeing the potential of their children unfolding or heading for positive development in the exploration of a new world, and their minds expanding with learning.

The command of reading, mathematical and writing skills are also gained much more easily with an earlier education.

Yes, it is true, it is always easier to learn something at an earlier age and, likewise, the intellectual process is best started early when it is without pressure or burden, said Atikah, whose organisation is involved in programmes related to the development and welfare of children under the age of 18.

"This is what we stress on as there are parents who want their children to be clever in their studies. But kids are kids... let them play and, at the same time, teach them by story telling to attract their interest in reading books," she told Bernama.

In fact, early education centres such as kindergartens which open their doors to children aged from four onwards, or nurseries that cater to children from age two, are not filled with boring study-routines.

The environment of exploring knowledge is tailored according to age groups and interspersed with interesting and the latest elements to attract the interest of young children to study and to lay down a strong foundation for them to easily accept formal education later on in primary school.

HOW CRUCIAL IS EARLY EDUCATION?

Early education, however, is not just about the process of expanding the mind's prowess or even about turning a child into a bookworm.

Indeed, it can be an early catalyst for producing a generation that is fully equipped with good communications skills, while being creative, innovative, as well analytical in their thinking.

Various studies have been carried out to prove the correlation between early education and quality performance.

Among them, research done in the United Kingdom indicated how children who received quality early education for two years were capable of showing a higher level of performance by the age of seven.

The Vice Chancellor of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM), Prof Tan Sri Sharifah Hapsah Syed Hasan Shahabudin, has been quoted as saying that a child's period of growing up to age five was vital, as research had shown that the emotional, physical and intellectual environment they are in during the early stages of their lives had a profound impact on the way their brains develop.

Therefore, it comes as no surprise when, today, many parents believe that sending their children to pre-school is a priority in the development and bringing up of their children.

VALUES AND HUMAN CAPITAL

Despite this, not many parents are aware that this long-term investment of sending their children to pre-school would also instill strong values in the children.

The development of children with rich eastern values, learned from an early age, will also prove to be a strong pillar for them against falling easily into any negative social behavior, Atikah said.

She noted that under the current scenario, where any mix of cultures could be assimilated into daily living with the meaning of shame or modesty completely lost, a great challenge has been posed, one that calls for the importance of religious education and emphasizing interracial and other important values.

"We see many social ills taking place. But if we say prevention is better than cure, by sending the children for early education, I feel such issues could be overcome," added Atikah.

CHOOSING THE CENTRE

The question then arises about how to choose a quality early education centre.

It is only natural that parents would be fussy when they make their selection, since they want to choose the best for their children.

Hence, they would compare the reputation of kindergartens operated by the private sector, as well as the government, before making their choice.

The introduction of the Permata Negara, an early education programme and the brainchild of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak's wife, Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor, meanwhile, has given new hope in the world of early childcare and education.

Based on the belief that every child is a jewel of this country, the Permata Negara programme was introduced in 2007 and aimed at assisting children in underprivileged groups, including rural and urban poor and, especially, individuals with household incomes of less than RM1,500 a month.

"With the Permata Negara programme, awareness about early education has continued to grow and today the matter of early education has become an important element in the country," said Atikah.

EVERY CHILD IS PRECIOUS

The Permata Negara programme is holistic, inculcating an enjoyable learning method adapted from the Pen Green Centre model, a programme carried out in Corby, England and tailored to suit Malaysian society.

Children are exposed to learning techniques that are based on the concepts of experiment, exploration, experience and social interaction.

Success for the Permata Negara programme has been quick, with more than 50 Anak Permata Negara centres established in the country, as 654 kindergartens nationwide have adopted the programme's curriculum.

To mark the success of the programme, a coffee-table book in Bahasa Malaysia and English, entitled "Setiap Anak Permata Negara" and "Every Child Is Precious", was also recently published.

The book is expected to inspire readers, especially parents, about the importance of early education.

The 180-page hardcover book, currently available to the public, details the success of the Permata Negara programme through a collection of rich photographs and text on the workings of the programme in advocating for early education.

Patron of the Permata Negara programme, Rosmah, in her keynote address, describes investing in a child's education as a wise, long term move towards building quality human capital to assure the country's continued progress.

Indeed, a child is a precious asset, and without a proper education it would be impossible for a child to become an agent of development for the country.

Rosmah put it eloquently in her book when she said that children must be brought up in the best way and it must be done not only for their own good, but for the future of the country.

-- BERNAMA