Early education is no child’s play

Hands-on educators: Chiah (in white) instructing UCSI students on coaching techniques for children during a music and movement lesson. — AZHAR MAHFOF/The Star

PETALING JAYA: Childcare providers must be properly trained and be appropriately paid for their services to ensure the best quality for pupils, say experts.

Child psychologist Dr Chiah Wan Yeng said the country needs more qualified early childhood educators as the formative years are most crucial for a child’s development.

“These years set the foundation for lifelong learning, behaviour, school readiness, and one’s overall well-being.

“And as dual-income households are the norm, more and more responsibilities are being shouldered by early childhood educators,” said Chiah, who is an assistant professor and the head of academic affairs at the UCSI Child Development Centre (CDC).

She explained that as far as training goes, the job scope for childcare providers must be defined.

“It’s not just about one’s level of education.

“Other things need to be considered, like pedagogical knowledge and the amount of hands-on training early childhood educators receive at university or college.

“Practical exposure and simulation rooms help immensely, and we work closely with UCSI University to provide their Bachelor of Early Childhood students with hands-on learning opportunities,” she said yesterday.

Chiah also suggested that childcare educators should undertake psychological assessments periodically – perhaps biennially.

“Childhood education providers must also be vigilant when it comes to mental health screening. At UCSI CDC, we look into the finer details like one’s family history of depression or anxiety and the reasons behind prolonged or unusual sick leave.

“This is important as early childhood educators must be resilient,” she said.

She added that a diploma in Early Childhood Education must be the minimum academic requirement for educators.

“The process of earning the qualification would require one to be well-versed with child development milestones, numeracy, literacy, physical education, arts and craft, curriculum design, and health and safety guidelines,” she said.

Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Council founding president Datuk Dr Chiam Heng Keng also agreed that it was absolutely important for care providers to be well trained.

“It needs knowledge and skills to care for children in their formative years. The younger the child, the more knowledge and skills are needed.

“However, in Malaysia the requirements for qualifications are in the reverse order – the older the child, the greater the need to be properly trained.

“There is a difference between having a paper qualification and being properly trained. The sad reality is that the vast majority of those with paper qualifications are not properly trained and are not able to put into practice their theoretical knowledge.

“It is very vital that the practice must go hand in hand with the theoretical knowledge,” she said, adding that childcare providers should also be appropriately paid for their service.

“If the salary is low, there is no incentive to be trained and go into the industry permanently. Even though they like to work with young children, the low pay deters them from venturing into the industry.

“Hence, the industry is filled with people who are unable to get jobs or use childcare as a temporary job while waiting for a better offer,” she said.

The Women, Family and Community Development Ministry must also give appropriate attention to the welfare of childcare providers and make sure the centres are registered and are operated appropriately, added Chiam.

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