Cabinet approves improvements in early childhood education

Thailand is making a serious investment in its future as the cabinet of Prime Prayut Chan-o-cha approved draft regulations last week to improve the quality of care and services at over 53,000 early childhood education facilities across the country.

Improving education is essential to Thailand’s national wellbeing and competitiveness, and education theorists believe that children that receive early childhood education, or ECE, benefit greatly if it is properly delivered. Education is a priority under the Kingdom’s 20-year national strategy known as Thailand 4.0 that aims to create a more innovative and advanced society.

Early childhood education technically spans the period from birth through age eight but is generally considered to cover the prekindergarten and kindergarten years. The regulations approved by the cabinet govern education before Grade 1.

ECE has become a significant public policy adopted in many countries during recent decades. UNICEF is a strong advocate of ECE, and its proponents posit that children who receive it tend to grow into better students with higher academic achievements, display better social skills, and adapt better to society. They say that many countries allocate massive resources to higher education, but without generous resources and attention given to ECE students lack the strong foundation needed for success.

“Participation in early childhood education makes a huge difference in a child’s development,” UNICEF Thailand says on its website.

Wattanaporn Rangubtook, deputy secretary-general of the Office of the Education Council, said that all 53,000 child-care facilities would have to conform to centralized standards. The teachers must use methods appropriate for ECE as outlined in the regulations, which call for a “learning-by-doing” approach. The Ministry of Education has worked on ECE projects with UNICEF.

Children receiving ECE will also be separated into two groups: those aged two years and under, and those above age two and not yet in Grade 1.

UNICEF said that some of the challenges to ECE in Thailand are that a majority of fathers do not engage in learning activities with their children in the home and that access to children’s books is limited, especially in poor households.

Nonetheless, the organization cited Thailand’s recognition of the importance of ECE, noting that only about 15 percent of children in Thailand are not enrolled in early childhood care and development programs.

Boonrak Yodpetch, secretary-general of the Office of the Basic Education Commission, said that Thai ECE facilities have applied various learning philosophies or concepts to their teaching approaches. The methods include HighScope, Montessori, Waldorf, Reggio Emillia, and Whole Language.

In the process of drafting the new regulations, education officials agreed that each facility should adopt the same approach, and after consultations with schools they reached the conclusion that the HighScope concept would be the applied method, he said.