OPENING ADDRESS BY
YAB DATO’ SRI MOHD NAJIB TUN ABDUL RAZAK
PRIME MINISTER, MALAYSIA
AT MALAYSIAN INTERNATIONAL ECEC CONFERENCE OF
“DEVELOPING HUMAN CAPITAL BEGINS WITH CHILDREN”
ON 14TH APRIL 2009 (TUESDAY), 8.30 PM
AT SHANGRI-LA HOTEL, KUALA LUMPUR
YABhg. Datin Sri Rosmah Mansor
Mrs. Thandiwe Banda
The First lady of Zambia
Madam Begum Fauziah Yousaf Raza Gillani
Wife of the Prime Minister of Pakistan
Madam Bounkongmany Lengsarad
Wife of the Standing Deputy Prime Minister
Lao People’s Democratic Republic
Cabinet Ministers and wives
Ladies and Gentlemen
A very good evening to all of you.
Let me begin by congratulating the organizers, PERMATA Negara, Sultan Idris Education University, NAECCEM, UNICEF and especially the Conference Patron, YABhg. Datin Sri Rosmah Mansor, for their effort in organizing the Conference. Their ability in bringing close to 600 participants, with more than 250 international participants from 41 countries is indeed commendable. The presence of renowned speakers both from abroad and locally further adds credence to the Conference.
2. Let me also join the Conference Patron in welcoming Mrs. Thandiwe Banda, Madam Begum Fouzia Yousaf Raza Gillani and Madam Bounkongmany Lengsarad to the Conference. It is also my pleasure to welcome the participants and speakers to the Conference. To the foreign participants and speakers welcome to Malaysia and hope you will have an enjoyable stay in Kuala Lumpur.
3. The Conference Patron in her welcoming speech spoke about the birth of PERMATA Negara and her aspiration of giving Malaysian children the best start in life and the chance to succeed. I can still recalled three years ago when she and her team presented to me their proposal for the comprehensive early childhood education and care programme. To further convince me, she had assembled a team of professionals with varied background in early childhood education.
4. They impressed upon me that early childhood is the most critical period in human development and that 85 percent of the person intellect, personality and social skills are developed in the first five years of the child’s life. Children that have quality early childhood education will start on a better life trajectory. That means, they are not only more successful in early years but will also be better individuals in their later life. Returns they said are highest for investment made at younger ages and remedial investment are often prohibitively costly. If this window of opportunity is lost, the nation suffers loss in human capital and the child is denied of the opportunity to reach his or her full potential.
5. I must admit their presentation was very convincing and they came prepared with answers to any question. They have done their homework well and did an in-depth research. But what impresses me most was their belief, commitment, dedication and above all their passion. And all this is done on a voluntary basis. The Government has responded to their initiative and has now formulated the National Policy for Early Childhood Education and Care and has also accepted PERMATA’s Curriculum as the guiding principle for the national curriculum.
Ladies and gentlemen,
6. Every child is precious and children are assets to our society. It is the most valuable resource of the nation. I believe that developing a nation and its people begins with early childhood education. While it is the duty of the parents to ensure the child has the opportunities to develop, it is also the government’s responsibility to help parents bring the potential to fruition. In developing a child’s potential, we are in reality developing the human capital of the child and of the nation. In carrying out this task, we are enabling the child to grow holistically so that the child is equipped with abilities, knowledge and skills to become productive member of the nation.
7. Economists have long believed that investment in early education is a good strategy in developing human capital which in turn, is an important source for economic growth. Cognitive and non-cognitive abilities are important for a productive work force. It is said that key workforce skills such as motivation, persistence and self-control are developed early. Children are the future generations who have the potential to drive the economy of the country as leaders, innovators, entrepreneurs, researchers and economist. Education thus without doubt is the key determinants that nurture human capital. This reminds me of a Chinese proverbs which says:
– If you are thinking a year ahead, plant a seed
– If you are thinking a decade ahead, plant a tree
– If you are thinking a century ahead, educate the people
8. This awareness should be complemented with a supporting system in order to achieve the objective of helping every child reach their maximum potential. The challenge is to work together to ensure that all children have the best possible start to life through quality care and learning in the earliest years. The benefits in this investment will be seen in future years of their lives.
Ladies and gentlemen,
9. Malaysia is a fairly young country with about 3.1 million or 12 percent of its population under the age of four. Malaysia has a long history of placing high importance on education, recognizing that it is an important tool to achieve sustainable development. Malaysia’s concern for the optimum development of its children is reflected in its numerous socio-economic policies and plans which seek to create a conducive and enabling environment sensitive to the needs of children. It is not surprising that within 50 years, our wisdom to invest in the education of children has seen positive results.
10. With increasing competition in the global market, the economy will have to further strengthen its competitiveness and venture into new growth areas. This will require human capital that is knowledgeable and highly skilled, creative and innovative as well as imbued with positive work ethics and spiritual values. In line with this, efforts were intensified in the Ninth Malaysia Plan period to develop the country’s human capital. The Government acknowledges that the quality of the nation’s human capital will be the most critical element in the achievement of its national mission.
11. Although early childhood education did not receive much attention until quite recently, nevertheless, legislation was put in place way back in 1984 to ensure quality childcare at childcare centres. Since 2003, the Government has committed to provide access to preschool education for all children aged five and six by next year. The preschool programme has also been officially recognized as a component of the national education system. Its incorporation into the national system has resulted in a standard curriculum, systematic and specific training for teachers and child care providers and the setting of standards for private preschool providers.
12. The Government has also identified that accessibility and affordability are the major issues pertaining to early childhood education. In this regards the Government agencies that provide childcare centre at the work place will be given RM 80,000 grant for renovation and furnishing the childcare centre. Meanwhile, to encourage the establishment of more child care centres at the work place, employers who set up child care centres are given 10% tax reduction per annum on the cost of setting up the child care centres for a period of ten years as an incentive. In this context, I would like to urge the private sector to fulfill their corporate social responsibility by providing child care facilities at the work place for their employees.
Ladies and gentlemen,
13. In response to PERMATA’s initiative of setting up its childcare centre as a pilot project, the Ninth Malaysia Plan also commits the Government to begin the provision of care and education for children under the age of four. In this regard, RM 20 million was allocated for the pilot project and within two years PERMATA had already established 14 centres throughout the country.
14. In view of the encouraging assessment made on children that attended the PERMATA centres, the government subsequently decided to roll out the PERMATA project to government and statutory bodies childcare centres. To facilitate its implementation and additional RM 150 million was allocated to PERMATA. I understand by the end of this year more than 300 childcare centres will be rolled out as PERMATA centres. Although the adoption of PERMATA’s curriculum has not been made compulsory nationally as yet, nevertheless, I would like to encourage private childcare centres to start using it.
15. The formulation of National Policy for Early Childhood Education and Care had also streamline the roles, functions and responsibilities of government agencies in order to minimize unnecessary duplication of efforts and resources. To provide continuity, the Ministry of Education has been entrusted with the responsibility in early childhood education programme. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development will continue with its role of ensuring quality care for the young children through legislative enforcement of the Childcare Centre Act. Agencies such as Community Development Department and National Unity Department will also continue with their role as child care providers.
Ladies and gentlemen,
16. Malaysia ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in 1995 which is the United Nation’s instrument protecting the child’s rights. As a State Party to the CRC, Malaysia has undertaken various efforts in ensuring the four basic rights of its children are fully protected and implemented. The formulation of a comprehensive policy on Early Childhood Education and Care should be seen as Malaysia’s commitment in fulfilling its obligation under the CRC.
17. Before I end the speech, I wish to re-emphasize the significance responsibility of the family towards human development and enhancement of cultural, moral and social values of their children. The family’s role has been recognized as being very crucial in shaping and developing children to become resourceful and resilient citizens. Parental guidance is most often in the form of setting good example for the children to emulate. And this is best done at the child early age.
18. Looking at the Conference programme, I acknowledge that it encompasses an extensive scope of topics related to the development of children, inclusive of children with special needs. It is my hope that the participants will use it as a platform to interact intellectually and professionally. I am positive that such interactions will be of benefits to all of you. To the foreign participants I do hope you will find time to explore Kuala Lumpur and visit the other states in Malaysia.
With that note it is with great pleasure for me to officiate the Conference.