Wonder Minds Preschool, Bangsar
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Kids Academy Malaysia

Interview - Malaysia Early Childhood Care & Education (ECCE) Council

by on 07/07/2014 7341

Can you tell me the history and background of ECCE Council?

Yes, of course. The ECCE Council was set up under EPP1, Ramping Up Early Child Care and Education, an initiative under the Economic Transformation Program (ETP), to boost the country’s economy.

One of the main purposes is for the Council to be the link between the government and the early childhood care and education (ECCE) industry. Through this public-private partnership, we hope to achieve accessibility to quality early child care and preschool education by 2020.

The other mandates of the Council are to professionalize the ECCE industry and assure quality control. In Malaysia, ECCE is deemed inferior to other professional fields. In fact, most Malaysian childcare providers and preschool teachers do not see themselves as professional at all. Often we hear them say, “I’m JUST a preschool teacher”

To many, there is not much dignity or respect accorded to those who are involved in early childhood care and education. At best, those who work in the childcare line are seen as carers and at worst, they are seen as maids.

One of our missions and objectives is to change this mentality/perception because if you take a look at other countries such as Russia, Finland, Japan and South Korea, early childhood educators are highly regarded and it is an esteemed profession. Take Russia as example, you need at minimum a Master’s degree to be a preschool teacher, and it is very common for preschool teachers to have PhD.

By making ECCE recognized as a professional, early childhood educators are able to provide feedback and reports on children to their parents without their authority being questioned.

We also want to ensure early childhood educators are those who are qualified and certified. With Diploma in Early Childhood Care and Education as the minimum requirement, our early childhood educators have the necessary knowledge.

Why do you think we need high quality early childhood care and education?

The first 5 years of a child’s life is the most critical period for development. Children are born with over 100 billion neurons or brain cells. These cells need experiences for them to connect to form synapses and neural pathways for the brain to develop. Therefore, the kind of experiences a child has or is exposed to determine the way the brain develops.

Stress can change the architecture of the brain. If a child’s needs (such as hunger, discomfort, love and attention) are not met, stress hormones or cortisols are released. High, sustained levels of cortisols in the brain do not only lead to impairment in learning and memory but also to behavioural disorder. Thus, we may be nurturing an emotional monster.

This is why it is extremely vital for childcare providers and preschool teachers to be qualified and possess relevant credentials. They will not only be able to provide appropriate experiences for the child to grow and develop but will also be able to detect when something is amiss with a child. With this information, they will know what to do, especially in recommending the appropriate actions to be taken by the parents.

Here’s something that I would like to point out.

I am sure you are aware that in our universities, girls outnumber boys. Data show that more than 60% of the students in colleges and universities are girls. The decline in academic performance for boys begins as early in Standard 3. The percentage of boys dropping out of school becomes greater as they go up their grades. To me, this gender difference in academic performance is due to early childhood care and education.

Let me explain:

Boys are physical by nature: they need to work with their hands, they love to explore their surroundings and to investigate. But almost all of our preschools tend to make boys sit still and listen to the teachers. The activities conducted are passive and do not encourage mobility and exploration. On the other hand, girls tend to be verbal. Therefore, the activities conducted in childcare centres and preschools favour girls.

Not only do boys learn less under such circumstances but they also have the notion that learning is not fun and boring. When they grow up, they are not willing to invest their time in learning.

This is why the Council advocates for early childhood educators to be certified and have the necessary minimum qualification to provide quality early childhood education so that our young children’s development is not harmed.

We are aware that many childhood care centers and preschools are operating without proper licenses and some are not even registered. What can ECCE Council do about this?

The Ministry of Education in collaboration with the Council had conducted road shows to inform the importance of registration. However, parents and society must play their part by sending their children to registered childcare centres and registered preschools. They must be cognizant of the importance of the early years and the impact experiences have on all aspects of the child’s development – not only intellectual development but also social, emotional and physical.

As I mentioned, in many developed countries, early childhood educator is highly regarded profession, but here in Malaysia, it is the other way around.

Many parents are looking at the cost instead of what the centre can offer and deliver. If you consider carefully, it will cost parents more in the future because uncertified and unregistered centres may not have the right programmes for their children to develop. If the wrong kind of approach, especially in the early formative years, it will be difficult for these children to unlearn what they have experienced.

Parents need to be aware that quality should be the topmost priority and registered childcare centres and preschools are more likely to meet the standards required by the Department of Social Welfare and Ministry of Education respectively. People need to realize that they must invest in quality early childhood care and education.

In that case, what are the things that current early childhood care and education operators can do to upgrade their status so they will be recognized as qualified operators and educators?

The Council has been advocating for quality early childhood care and education since its establishment and has been urging the government to enforce Diploma in Early Childhood Education as the minimum academic qualification for early childhood educators for them to acquire the professional status. If you take a look at the Council’s website, you will get information on what the Council has been doing to raise the professional status of early childhood educators.

To pursue Diploma in ECE, a candidate has to have at least 3 credits in SPM. Those who do not have this qualification, they need to go through APEL (Accreditation of Prior Learning Experience) which requires candidates to sit for an examination which basically is a literacy and numeracy competency test and present a portfolio.

All professionals, such as doctors, lawyers, engineers and soon social workers, are required to belong to a professional body to practise. Likewise, all early childhood educators should, by an Act of Parliament, belong to a professional body, to be a childcare provider, preschool teacher, supervisor, principal or operator. Through campaigns, brochures, talks and the National ECCE week, the Council has been urging early childhood educators to get appropriate qualifications and join the ECCE Council to respect and recognize themselves as professional childcare providers or preschool teachers.

To be a member of the ECCE Council, the minimum qualification is Diploma in Early Childhood Education (ECE) or its equivalents. However, in the interim period, working experiences are considered. Thus, the entry qualification for ECCE Council membership during the interim period are: 3 or more credits in SPM + 1 year of work experience in childcare centre/preschool; or 2 credits in SPM + 3 years of work experience; or 1 credit in SPM + 4 years of work experience. Those who have no credit in SPM require 7 years of work experience in the ECCE industry.

Getting childcare providers, preschool teachers, operators and workers in the ECCE industry to upgrade their knowledge and competencies, to seek for higher qualification and to consider themselves as professionals is an uphill climb. Changing mindset is never easy.

Would you say this is one of your biggest challenges then?

Oh, yes. It is difficult to change the mentality of our people, whether they are early childhood educators, parents or society, because viewing early childhood care and education as an occupation that requires low level skills is the norm in this country.

As I had mentioned earlier, not only parents think that early childhood care and education is an occupation that requires little academic knowledge, preparation and skills, those involved in early childhood care and education think likewise.

Another challenge is tackling childcare centres and preschools who operate without registration and license. Considering the prolific number of unregistered centres and preschools in Malaysia, this is an arduous task. We had worked with the Ministry of Housing and Local Government to come up with the Guidelines for Setting TADIKA and TASKA in the country. The Guidelines recommends local authorities to set up a one-stop centre to streamline the registration process and procedures for safety requirements.

The low pay for those working in the early childhood care and education industry is also another roadblock to the attainment of quality standards in the ECCE industry. Usually those are unable to get a “decent” job or those without qualifications seek for work in early childhood care and education. Besides that, many childcare providers, preschool teachers and operators in the ECCE industry are staying in the comfort zone and are not interested to improve themselves.

What’s your advice to the existing early childhood care and education operators and educators?

My advice is simple – love what you do and have self-respect. When a person respects him/herself, the person will give his/her level best.

Unless you love what you do and are passionate about it, you will do your very best to succeed. Having self-respect, giving your best and taking pride in what you do even though others think little of it will bring you success and satisfaction.

In short, early childhood educators and operators need to respect themselves before they can demand respect from others.

That’s excellent advice. Before we end this interview, is there anything you want to add?

I would like to appeal to parents who are sending their children to a childcare centre or preschool to demand quality and ensure the childcare centre or preschool is registered, if the preschool is private. Selection of the childcare centre/preschool and its staff should not be taken lightly

ECCE is one of the most important industries in Malaysia as early child care and education is the building block of their child’s development and his/her future. Until the majority of the early childhood care and education community is certified and qualified, parents need to play an active role in changing the perception/mindset of early childhood educators.

Thank you so much for your time, Datuk.

You’re most welcome.

For more information about ECCE Council, please visit their website at http://eccecouncil.org/