Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Emphasising Early Education

While I’ve been upfront about my support for expanding access to tertiary education and prioritising vocational education, the fact is and remains that pre-school education might be more crucial than the rest of the education system put together (here and here for reference), and primary education more important than latter levels. Of course, in this context, the role of parental role models and tutoring is evident – the point of education in these early years is not about gaining knowledge, but about gaining skills, particularly the ability to learn as opposed to learning. It’s about the habit of thinking and interpersonal interaction, and not about facts and theorems.

This World Bank blog post points to some of the evidence and the type of programs that can help (excerpt):

First two years of life are key to good jobs

In President Ollanta Humala's Peru just as in all of Latin America making good grades in school, finding a good job and having access to opportunities to get ahead largely depend on a single number: the first 1,000 days in the life of an individual, in other words, from conception to age two.

Providing health, nutrition and a nurturing environment during this stage not only guarantees that mother and child will survive the pregnancy and remain healthy, but also that the child's brain will develop adequately to enable learning in school and throughout life. The reason? Up to 80% of our brain architecture develops during those 1,000 days.

According to a labor skills study that I conducted recently, the development of generic skills—cognitive and socio-emotional—is essential for job success and for the development of an individual's "learning aptitude" throughout life, which will allow him or her to adapt to new situations and to deal with problems…the earlier the investment, the easier and more effective it is to exercise a positive influence on brain development.

Three crucial stages should be taken into account when establishing public policies. The first, as I mentioned, covers the first 1,000 days of life, also known as the "nutrition window of opportunity…"

The second stage covers early childhood development, from age two to five years, when school-readiness aptitudes develop. During this pre-school phase, the focus is on acquiring language and a critical socio-emotional skill–the capacity for self-regulation…

The third stage corresponds to basic education, during which aptitudes for continuous learning are consolidated...

…Socio-emotional skills such as self-regulation, and with it, the perseverance and capacity for teamwork, continue to strengthen until early adulthood...

…Recent studies demonstrate that it is possible to build children's socio-emotional skills through public interventions to support families and schools. An important example is Tools of the Mind, a pre-school curriculum and teaching practice program that focuses on developing children's self-regulation…

…Another example is the curriculum of the Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies program (PATHS), which teaches primary- and middle-school children skills for self-regulation, emotional awareness, decision-making and conflict resolution…

…Controlled randomized studies have shown that these programs significantly improve children's self-regulation and other socio-emotional skills, which in turn strengthens their academic and social performance.

The high social return on early childhood investments has also been demonstrated…

We’re only just at the point of aiming for universal pre-school education, but there’s still much to do. As of last year, we’re at about 72%, which isn’t bad considering that it was just 67% in 2009. We’re on the way, but that still leaves more than 50,000 kids without that critical early education boost every year. Just as critical is the quality of education at this level, which is probably far more crucial than it would be at higher education levels. For if the basic emotional and psychological makeup hasn’t already been embedded, than each succeeding level of education would be harder to negotiate.

In reforming the education system, widening access to tertiary education is important; putting vocational (and professional) education on the same standing as academic education is also important; but getting pre-school and primary education right is absolutely critical.


  1. Only 50,000/year? Some numbers are not right somewhere.

    And i think it shouldn't be just pre-school. It should be pre-birth!

    Sing, talk, read poetry and articulate math equations, play mozart and coo to the baby in the womb.

    Have i ever been wrong?

  2. Average age cohort (number of Malaysian children of any given school year age) is about a quarter of a million. Take away about the 70% enrollment rate, and you're left with about 50k-60k. If you're thinking of total pre-school, that should total 150k or more in any given year.

    But not Mozart! Beethoven, or better yet Bach. Mozart to me is the equivalent of pop music - as good as his music is, there's lots of populist fluff.

  3. ok, more research needed..

  4. Nothing better than a little Ludwig Van!

  5. @rodger,

    My personal preference is Wagner, probably a reflection of my tendency to pomposity and hyperbole ;)

  6. hishamh,


    ps: Wagner was adolf's favorite too :P

  7. Yes I know, but then lots of people like Wagner...he's the inspiration for much of John William's orchestral soundtracks for example.

    When I hear Wagner though, my mental eye sees John Boorman's Excalibur.

  8. yes, but in that vision was that rusty sword stuck in the rock or in someone?

    ps: the conclusion of that research missed have missed the sagacity of someone.