The covid-19 has created a colossal impact on education. Schools have been closed around the world and students have been stranded at home. For most students, that meant more screen time learning maths and English and less outdoor time with their friends and family. What does this mean for younger children? How does the pandemic impact children in their early years and subsequent development? Dr. Rattana Lao interviewed Dr. Lydia L.S. Chan Deputy Chief Executive Officer of the Yew Chung Education Foundation and an advocate of quality early childhood education in Asia.
Q: How does the COVID-19 impact early childhood educational experiences?
Schools in Hong Kong have been shut down and we have to moved our learning online. Well, in many ways, this is not the first time that Hong Kong has been hard hit by a pandemic. We had been hit by SARS before. The difference is that this time we do not know how long it will take for schools to resume to normal learning mode. We planned that everything will go back to normal in August and September 2020 for face to face.
Of course, this impacts all levels of children as their classes are now given online. But for early childhood, we mean children from year 0 to 8 years old. From my experience, the children from 3 to 6 years old are the hardest hit. Children in this age should be engaged in what we know as “play-based” education: they should be active, engaged and playful rather than passively learning from online mode.
This can have long-term implication for children development. As they are trapped indoor, it can mitigate their enthusiasm and concentration for learning.
Q: How should we respond to this new normal to ensure that children childhood development is not falling behind?
There are two immediate levels of response to address the impact of the pandemic on early childhood. On the one hand, the new online education requires full participation from the parents. The parents are essential in this process, to guild, mentor and encourage children’s learning. We cannot do much without the parental participation. On the other hand, the educational institutions must provide adequate learning packages that are developmentally appropriate for online and offline for their students. The schools must be equipped to provide resourceful materials for parents/ grandparents or their primary caretakers to interact with students. That’s very important.
Q: Yew Chung College of Early Childhood education is the pioneer in Asia to specializein early childhood education. What inspired you to focus on early childhood agenda?
Yew Chung Education Foundation has extensive experience in early childhood education since 1932. We have been the non-profit institution providing early childhood education for children in Hong Kong and greater China. Through such experience, we wanted to branch out and expand greater, more opportunities for families to have quality early childhood education. We wanted to create some educational experiences that are sustainable and scalable. With that, we started to think about teachers training program where we welcome diverse students to learn about the diverse needs of early childhood education. We wanted to see the paradigm shifts in how we train early childhood educators.
Another reason that inspired us is that there are a lot of buzz words in early childhood sector that are not well understood. Words such as play-based education, child-entered, learning through play – which are key and important words. They are being thrown around without in-depth understanding. We wanted to produce a cadre of early childhood educators that understand the complexity of these words and able to create quality early childhood experiences for all.
Q: What do you think is the future of early childhood education in Asia?
Today, early childhood is not taken as seriously as primary and secondary education. The prestige is different, the pay is different. I think the future of early childhood education depends largely on how the society as a whole notice the importance of early years intervention for their children that such experience is extremely important for the rest of their life.
With that acknowledgement, it is important to upgrade the profession of early childhood educators to have equal prestige and equal pays similarly to primary and secondary educators. The current opportunity for early childhood practitioner is limited and inconsistent. For the future, it is important that we democratize the opportunity for having higher level of education on early childhood so more qualified practitioners are capable to address diverse learning needs from students.