KUALA LUMPUR: — 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However, this line of thinking is also becoming outdated and, indeed, in line with a fundamental shift combined with new ideas presented by a borderless, global world, many pre-school centres have been set up,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?
Lesson 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.
by Sakini Mohd Said.
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