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Do it sooner and do it better

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  • Newspaper section: Mylife
  • Writer: Rangsun Wiboonuppatum, PHD
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Early experiences form the foundation for healthy, intelligent and meaningful social interactions in life. All children have the right to be raised in a family and to have access to quality health care, good nutrition, education, play, and protection from harm, abuse and discrimination. 

Preschool children at the Silapadesh early childhood centre, a community-run-and-supported initiative in Chom Thong district, Bangkok. RANGSUN WIBOONUPPATUM

In Thailand, there are about 2.7 million children between three to five years of age, or about the size of the population of Nakhon Ratchasima province. The net enrolment of early childhood care centres is about 60 percent, and the rest is under the care of families or relatives.

In other words, nearly half of the children in this age group in Nakhon Ratchasima remain at home by their families and the other half have the opportunity to participate in organised early childhood development activities.

The seven competencies

The Office of Education Council (OEC) has just completed a study on early childhood behavioural competencies of children up to three years old and children between the ages of three and five years with the support of Unicef, Charron Lyan Kagen, PhD of Columbia University, and Pia Rebello Britto, PhD, of Yale University.

The behavioural competencies are contextualised for Thailand for extrap-olation to cover all the children in the country. The competencies comprise seven domains: motor development and physical well-being; social development; emotional development; cognitive development; language development; moral development; and creative development.

Critical facts

To ensure the holistic development of children in Thailand, these seven domains need to be embraced by parents, carers, academic communities and policymakers.

There is a need to examine whether the relevant country's policies stress holistic early childhood development and programme packages that address the physical, mental, social, moral and spiritual needs of the child.

According to the 2010 issue of Unicef's Facts for Life, we should realise that:

the early years, especially the first three years, are crucial for brain development in children;

babies learn rapidly from the moment of birth;

encouraging children to play and explore helps them to learn and develop socially, emotionally, physically and intellectually;

children learn how to behave both socially and emotionally by imitating the behaviour of those closest to them;

entering primary school on time is critical to ensure the continuity of a child's development; and

all children grow and develop along similar patterns, but each child develops at her or his own pace.

NECDC conference

The National Early Childhood Development Commission (NECDC) will be holding a national conference from Nov 11 to 12 at the Amari Watergate hotel that focuses on holistic child development, an event at which experts, practitioners, administrators and care providers will be gathering to reaffirm the country's commitment to early childhood development by addressing the seven domains mentioned above.

Saisuree Chutikul, PhD, a member of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (Cedaw) and the vice-chairperson of NECDC, believes that the challenge is to transform awareness of the importance of early childhood care and education into legal measures that fully support quality implementation that ensures that all young children can develop their well-being and their full potential. In effect, this conference will be another platform to bring this issue to the forefront yet again. (For more information on the conference, call the OEC on 02-668-7123.) !

Be more serious

The number of Thai children between three and five that is almost equal to the population of Nakhon Ratchasima province must be taken care of urgently. We need to act quickly to ensure that the seven domains are given the attention they deserve, as part of our overall care and support of these children. How we ensure these children grow up now will play an important role in the later stages of their lives. The severe floods that Thailand is now experiencing are teaching us that the situation of these children, likewise, is dire and requires the country's immediate attention.

Dr Rangsun is an education officer at Unicef Thailand. He obtained his doctorate in international/intercultural development education at Florida State University in the US.

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