[From my 'family experience',] I see preschool period as a great time of learning, We learn about the world around us - what, where and when people and things are; how they look, sound and move and if we can eat these and those things. We learn to associate things with sounds and that certain sounds mean something we already know. As we grow up, our abilities to walk (with feet and legs), to hold (with hands and arms), to see, to hear, to say and to remember grow with us. Day by day, as we experience the world we learn to model things and store in our memory. We learn to map visual models (shapes, colors, etc. of solid (3D) objects with flat (2D) images), audio models (of images, of solid objects, of motions and emotions) and combined audio-visual models (of multiple models with emotions in events) to past experience or to present moment and to future to come.
Usually by 3 years old, most children have learned and become quite competent with modelling the world. They can talk (express audio models), they can link audio models to real objects and motions and they can make new or repeat long sequences audio-visual models (in games --play and pretend).
Yes, this modelling is 'language'. What is 'language'? A certain standard set of rules (grammar) over models (vocal, symbolic/alphabet and gesture/sign representations) for communication? Competency in language is the skill in receiving, understanding, (and recording in memory) and transmitting messages (information). In plain language, ability to learn, to remember and to tell 'what, where, when, how'.
The competency level is of course depending on 'their world' (family and outside home environment). It has been noted that children can become 'more' competent if exposed to or experienced of more diversity (more varieties). [Taking children to exhibitions, sports, museums, zoos, ... helps.] It is also noted that children exposed to multiple languages (in family or neighborhood) can learn the different languages (with different set of rules and vocabulary) and can communicate well in multi-language environments. [A big plus for multicultural world of 21st century.] Though it seems that more complex languages would be more difficult to learn. It is not the case for young children. So, children have amazing learning capacity and can learn multiple languages (models) - at preschool age.
Language is pre-requisite (preschool) for 'learning in school' (and living in community). Language is modelling with certain set of rules and standards. PISA tests are in a way just 'language' tests (to assess the ability to use language --modelling in 'real world'. The goal of education is to better language (modelling) skills, at basic education phase, at high school phase, and latter phases on the path to better living and better human ("มาตรา 6 การจัดการศึกษาต้องเป็นไปเพื่อพัฒนาคนไทยให้เป็นมนุษย์ที่สมบูรณ์ทั้งร่างกาย จิตใจ สติปัญญา ความรู้ และ คุณธรรม มีจริยธรรมและวัฒนธรรมในการดำรงชีวิตสามารถอยู่ร่วมกับผู้ได้อย่างมีความสุข" as prescribed in มาตรา 6 of พระราชบัญญัติการศึกษาแห่งชาติ พ.ศ. 2542).
Preschool is foundational and should be held as the first and foremost important step in the development of everyone. Preschool is not a middle-class fashion, not a children minder facility so parents can go to work away from home, and it is not merely another playground or meeting place for children. Preschool can be the best time and best opportunity to lay down the infrastructural language (and modelling) skills, to develop characters and (norm) values of society later in life.
Preschool learning usually focuses on
- Fine motor skills: throw, catch, balance, hop, ...
- Listening skills: --we have to learn to listen to kids too
- Basic needs: body awareness (including toiletry), do things for self
- Social skills and conflict resolution: share, take turn, queue, befriend
- Free, unstructured play: --to develop curiosity, imagination, .. computing
The side effects of preschool learning are skills in linking (vocal words/utterances to objects/events and their description) in various ways (objects-objects, objects-space-time, objects-actions,...); 'recognition of letters' (ก ไก่) and (simple) textual words; awareness of environment and conditions.
[We know from experience that learning a second language or other skills at later age is quite difficult (ไม้อ่อนดัดง่าย ไม้แก่ดัดยาก; you can't teach old dogs a new trick).]
[A question arises in regard to the benefit of the current 'preschool' system. I can't find 'official' reports or 'studies' on preschool in Thailand. So, we can't compare people with to without preschool.]
To do this at Preschool, so children can develop healthy body, healthy mind and healthy habits early. Preschool standards and quality assurance measures should apply rigorously (but "on providers" of facility not "on children" - children should be allow to explore and play freely - under watch but not under control). These standards and quality measures need careful consultation with people around the children and be rationalized for safety, security, resourcing and maintaining. We would need highly qualified, alert, careful and pleasant operators/providers of preschool facilities because one mistake can make deep impressions (scars) on children that effect them for many decades later. The carers at preschool will have to set examples of high standards. 'Mothering' is the best fit description of the job and best practices will be learned from the children and the children's mothers. The ratio of children/carer would not be high - perhaps 8 or less children per carer would be about 'handful' - the same as a large family. Selection and training of carers (and assistants) would be a problem but the cost of selection and intensive training of carers is more favorable than the cost of failed learners and education systems on the country for years and years to come.
Preschool (of 2-3 years) could reduce the learning time in latter phases (to develop higher skills). Perhaps with high language competency, children can finish high school 2-3 years earlier and move into profession or higher education earlier. This would be cost-saving and productive for the country.
In sum, we have come to consider preparing children at entry to our education systems. We propose to use the children's most productive learning period to start our people development program. We can build and care for their body and mind and character. We can at least ensure their language skill at a high minimum level.
Once we put the first button right, the rest should follow in their right places.
[Are there issues of the government (state) taking responsibility of children from preschool? One question is over how long can parents enjoy lives with their children? Do children become 'charge of state' and have their (children) rights controlled? Their tie to their family weakened? Should preschools be run by a centralized control so quality can be easily assessed or by local providers so that children are better prepared for local requirements?]
[There is a need to measure and review education programs, currently lagging long after end of programs, more often and timely so that remedial treatments can be provided to the programs while they are running. Apply fixes next time is not good enough for learners in the programs, No learners should have to suffer from errors in programs,]
Let us repeat that 'language skill' is 'modelling skill' - making or using something to represent some reality. We use vocal 'words' to speak of things, we use symbols or 'letters' to represent the words (and thus the 'reality'). We have a set of rules on how we use words (in speaking or writing) so that they describe reality accurately. Because we can remember the rules and the patterns, we can 'read' (vocalize and link) words (models of the reality). We can 'write' words to describe reality (and/or imagination) to other people.
For Thai (written) language, we have a good number of video materials on facebook and Youtube (I have not looked at others portals) for young children to help them learn (recognize and remember) Thai alphabet (ก ไก่) by simply watching TV (or tablet). But little materials for self-learning beyond that. That is to read, to write and to tell, we seem to have only materials that require 'experts' (ครู) to teach these skills. This could be a weakness in our education system. The materials and expert teachers are diverse in their capacities and methodologies. This situation so far is not satisfactory. The children carry this failure onto higher levels and latter lives.
[Failures and lack of self-confidence or low self-esteem hinder achievement and often pass on negative effects to children and friends.]
More public audio-visual materials to help children to read and write by themselves are needed. [** This is a call for more innovation in teaching to read and write. **]
[* There are talks that many teachers have stopped learning to improve their teaching skills. Many have started looking for excuses and devious ways to improve reporting of results instead. Such is how our country runs into deeper holes. The children become parents and their children can receive less benefits from education. Generations down the tracks, the development of people would erode away and none would know any better.]
[** Should we include a second language in preschool? Many would agree that English would very useful for higher education and later life. But good English speaking teachers are lacking in Thailand. The number of English speaking teachers is too small to create English speaking environment in preschools. Parrot teaching (with audio or video materials) may do more harm than good. Other languages like Laotian, Chinese, Vietnamese,.. are feasible but these languages have the same limitations as Thai in the world community. Perhaps [English] language centers can set up with education staff and volunteers to provide 'second language' sessions on schedule to preschools.]
สถาบัน 'ครูของครู' 10 พฤศจิกายน 2565 https://www.thaipost.net/columnist-people/259772/
'สุเทพ 'ชงตั้งสภาการศึกษาจังหวัด ทำแผนการศึกษาแต่ละจังหวัดตามบริบทพื้นที่ https://www.thaipost.net/education-news/260332/ -- ดร.สุเทพ แก่งสันเทียะ เลขาธิการสภาการศึกษา (สกศ.)