Youngsters 'fail behavioural tests'

The development of Thai children aged 3-5 has worsened, with many failing standard tests on early childhood behavioural competency, a study has found.

The tests on children’s development in seven areas -- social, emotional, cognitive, language, morals and creativity -- were jointly carried out by Books for Children Foundation (FFC), the Education Ministry and the Thai Health Promotion Foundation (THPF) and UNICEF Thailand.

They were performed on 457 children in youth development centres belong to 16 local administrative organisations in six provinces including Chiang Rai, Phitsanulok, Loei, Chanthaburi, Uthai Thani and Nakhon Si Thammarat. The research began in August last year and is due to be completed in March next year.   

FFC manager Ruangsak Pinprateep said the test results showed certain behavioural aspects of Thai children had been largely neglected.

Young children enjoy story-telling activities at the Family Book Festival held at the Queen Sirikit National Convention Centre in July. Photo by Pawat Laopaisarntaksin.

For example, none of the children participating in the study passed tests in cognitive development, showing lack of basic memory skills such as telling their home telephone numbers and emergency numbers. In other countries, Mr Ruangsak said, young children had been taught to remember such important information so that they could help themselves when they get lost without their parents. 

The "appalling result" of the study was that all youngsters in the three age groups were not able to describe the basic features or characteristics of objects such as hot, long, heavy, big -- and were not able to use words like "yesterday", "today" and "tomorrow" correctly, showing a lack of concept formation.

On moral development, the children were asked to demonstrate behaviour reflecting understanding of morality in which one of the tests used the concept “not to take other people's possessions as their own”. Mr Ruansak said 74.62% of 3-year-olds and 68.75% of 4-year-olds could pass, but none of 5-year-olds did. The results could reflect a thorough picture of morality among the young. He warned such habits could burrow into the children’s behavioural patterns until they grow up unless their consciences were trained to know right from wrong.  

On adaptive social behaviour, he said, children aged 3 and 5 failed to describe how their behaviour affects other people's feelings and behaviour. Just 1.04% of 4-year-olds passed the test. 

Also on demonstrating strength and movements using small muscles, all aged groups were not able to “fold paper into simple shapes without assistance”. This was because many young children had not been encouraged by their parents or teachers to use their small muscles during play and other physical activities, the FCC manager claimed.

Mr Ruangsak said the first five years of a child's life are fundamentally important for developing their behaviour, personality and intellectuality. Parents should encourage their children to regularly do activities deemed useful to their brain development as well as design extra ones to activate new skills in them.  

Thailand currently has about 17 million young children, or 22% of its total population, said Penpan Jittasaenee, director of THPF’s healthy child, youth and family promotion bureau.

According to Public Health Ministry statistics, the development of behavioural competency among Thais in their early years had fallen from 80% in 1992 to 70% last year, she added.   


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