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The importance of proper early childhood education

Filipino families put a premium on their children’s education, and this attitude should begin even in their choice of a pre-school.

By Sandy Arellano

POST MILLENIALS Dylan, in a lab coat, and classmate Vernon during a science event in school

POST MILLENIALS Dylan, in a lab coat, and classmate Vernon during a science event in school

What is “proper education?”  If I were a more traditional educator, I would simply define this based on what Webster dictionary says: “proper” means correct and in accordance with social and moral rules, and “education” is the knowledge, skill, and understanding that you get from attending a school, college, or university.

Given that definition, it seems self-explanatory and perhaps many of us still regard proper education as simply that—the knowledge and understanding you receive from school, which are correct according to social and moral rules. But there seems to be a disconnect between the two, and, in my opinion, as the world evolves, so do people and their perceptions of morality.

Our society is shaped in no small way by our country’s geography. The Philippines is a diverse and multi-cultural nation with dozens of regions and more than 7,000 islands. This in itself makes defining “proper education” challenging because each region has its own ethnicity, unique languages, customs, religions, and beliefs.

There may be one binding opinion throughout our islands, and that is, all over the Philippines, almost all families believe in sending their young children to school because education will supposedly give them a better life and a bigger chance to advance in society.

STRAIGHT FROM THE HEART Sandy Arellano and youngest son David share a light moment; David reads one of his books in class

STRAIGHT FROM THE HEART Sandy Arellano and youngest son David share a light moment; David reads one of his books in class

According to www.nea.org, a high quality early childhood education program for children before they turn five provides significant long-term benefits. In the US, the High Scope Perry Preschool Study (www.highscope.org) found that individuals who were enrolled in a quality preschool program make up to $2,000 more per month than those who weren’t. Young people who were enrolled in pre-school are more likely to graduate from high school, own homes, and have more lasting marriages.

The Abecedarian Project (www.abc.fpg.unc.edu) is another study that shows similar results.  It was concluded and predicted that children enrolled in pre-school were less likely to repeat grades, or get into future trouble with the law.

In the Philippines, some of the barriers of a successful nationwide campaign for early childhood education are, first, the diverse culture and, second, the geographic nature of our country. I strongly believe that these barriers can be resolved if the Basic Education Program will adhere to something similar to the Montessori method of teaching pre-school.

At Montessori de San Juan, as in any true Montessori classroom, students develop order, coordination, concentration, and independence. Classrooms are designed to support the individual’s emerging self-regulation, which is the ability to recognize challenges and be trained problem solvers from toddlers to adolescents.

Montessori education also acknowledges that all children are different. Since children learn at varying paces, they’re encouraged and guided by teachers to advance through the curriculum based on an outline similar to an individualized plan. Another notable method or style in a Montessori classroom is allowing each child to have freedom within limits. The child works within parameters and goals set by teachers. Students play an active role in deciding what their focus of learning will be. This allows each child to be curious, resulting in exploration, which translates to joyous learning that’s sustainable.

A true Montessori education offers students the opportunity to develop their potential as they step out into the world as engaged, competent, and responsible citizens. They go through life appreciating and acknowledging the need to learn even as they mature.

Authentic Montessori classrooms, apart from being “teacher-prepared,” include multi-age groupings that foster peer learning, uninterrupted work time, and guided choice of activities.  In addition, a Montessori classroom should have a full complement of specifically designed Montessori learning materials that are methodically arranged and available for use in a visually pleasing classroom environment.

This is key because learning takes place in the triangle of learning, which includes the teacher, the learner, and the environment itself. I can’t stress enough that it’s important that the teacher prepare the classroom to encourage independence, freedom within limits, and order.

The hallmark of the Montessori method is multiage grouping where younger children learn from older children; older children reinforce their learning by teaching concepts they have already mastered as they interact with younger peers. In early childhood, children are taught and they learn through sensory-motor activities, both gross motor and fine motor. Children learn while they work with materials that develop and enhance cognitive abilities. They do so through experiencing and exploring their senses, and by engaging in concrete materials. This way, students are “learning by doing” and are enabled to think critically, work collaboratively, and act boldly—all necessary skills for the 21st-century individual!

Understandably, not all Filipino families may have the opportunity to send their child to a Montessori preschool, but now that the Philippine government has approved the K-12 education system, there’s a greater possibility for both public schools and private schools to catch the child at their last couple of years, during the “absorbent” stage (birth to six years old).  I believe that the preschool programs around the country should be focused not only on academics, but also, more important, on love for learning, self motivation, and self regulation, making today’s children more prepared for elementary school and the challenges they will face socially and academically.

Preschool teaches young children to socialize appropriately and to build self-confidence.  Another life-long skill that preschoolers are taught and exposed to is cooperation, the need for the child to work with peers to achieve a common goal. In line with all of these, children are shown to respect others, exercise patience, and to share. Pre-school also allows young children to be exposed to a diverse group of people, enabling them to value the differences we have with each other.

Going back to the primary challenges that face our nations ability to unite under an umbrella of diversity at a very young age, and while the basic educational benefits of preschool (such as literacy and numeracy) are definite and obvious, the developments children achieve toward becoming balanced individuals while attending pre-school are, without a doubt, truly valuable.

In the simplest of forms, we may achieve a successful nationwide early childhood education campaign by simply establishing early childhood education classrooms in the Philippines ,while strengthening the value of accepting each other’s differences and encouraging cooperation and team work, resilience, and respect.

Valuing differences and diversity are essential to a child’s being appreciative, respectful, and mindful of others. It’s important that during the young formative years, children are made to understand that everyone is unique, distinct, and special in their own way with their own culture, beliefs, and ethnicity.

Pre-school may serve to guide young learners to understand these values in order to become well-rounded contributors to our society, as we all strive toward a set of common goals. To me, this is what defines early childhood “proper” education.  Mabuhay!

The author is currently the assistant principal at Montessori de San Juan (www.montessoridesanjuan.com). She’s the mother of three boys, two of whom were diagnosed with ADHD. This development motivated her passion to help develop and advance special education through an “inclusive” approach, an advocacy she strongly supports. She holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology and is currently finishing her master’s degree in Special Education. Email her at sandyarellano@gmail.com.