Focus turns to developing Thai kids beyond the basics
WITH THE world’s population ageing fast and in many countries too few youngsters to fill their shoes, the focus on child development has moved from simply teaching them the basics – reading, writing and maths. Today, greater emphasis is being placed on technology and computer skills as well on what are known as executive functions, EF for short, best described as working memory, mental flexibility, and self-control. Preparing kids for a successful future starts, the experts say, in early childhood and indeed international research bears this out, with consensus reached that the development of children’s potential is based on the understanding of the brain’s nature and how it works.
Dow Thailand, which has been operating in the Kingdom for more than 50 years, supported the 2017 EF Symposium “Thai Children’s Brain: The Foundation of Thailand’s Future” and took the opportunity to showcase its project “Dow- EF Development for Successful Youth & Rayong Happiness”. The project was initiated in 2016 by Dow Thailand Group and 19 agencies from Rayong Province including community leaders, teachers, village health volunteers, health promoting hospital officers, public health officers, and nurseries.
Its objective is to enhance youth care with Executive Functions (EF) during early childhood and has been designed to complement the Thai government’s infrastructure support to prepare the country for Thailand 4.0. Several parties have turned their attention to the development of children’s cognitive thinking through EF in recent years. EF is located in the prefrontal cortex of the brain. It governs the thinking process and behaviour of children aged 0-six years to adolescents.
These skills are crucial for not only intelligence enhancement but also morale-boosting. EF helps encourage children to express their confidence, initiate ideas, act upon them, ask questions and search for the answers in an appropriate manner. In short, it forms a foundation for positive disciplines.
“Dow Thailand Group recognises the importance of EF for children’s development and aims to achieve it through integrated and sustainable collaboration between among the Ban Chang Strategic Development Team, RLG Group (Rakluke), community leaders, teachers, and volunteers including “Change Agents”,” explains Poranee Kongamornpinyo, the Group’s public affairs director. “The team has been working to expand and track progress continuously and drive the project to success through individual expertise, contribution, knowledge and technique-sharing within the collaborative network.”
A human brain is categorised by function into three main parts. EF is a mental process in the frontal part that controls cognitive, analysing, inhibiting, and emotional skills. This part of the brain is best developed from birth to 6 years old. It is a set of skills that governs IQ and EQ and is classified into three groups, namely Basic Skills, Self-Regulation Skills, and Practice Skills.
These skills enable children to learn, solve problems, socialise, and lead a happy and successful life. Research conducted by the National Statistical Office of Thailand has shown that the number of cross-generation families in which father, mother, children, and senior relatives are living together has increased by 35.9 per cent. This suggests that all family members play a role and contribute to the process of children’s upbringing.
“EF development in children is directly related to neuroscience and high-level brain processing especially in the frontal part of the brain. It needs to be well developed as it constructively contributes to one’s life,” says Assistant Professor Dr Vorasit Siripornpanich. The prime period for EF development is between the ages of three and six years old until pre-adult. This indicates that the earlier we develop these skills in children, the better we can enhance their learning process, enabling them to have life immunity.”
On Thai Children’s Day earlier this month, Dow volunteers joined with Change Agents to organise EF activities for parents and children in Ban Chang district. These included the “EF music activity” where each child was responsible for one musical instrument while the instructors assigned a sign for the instrument for the children to play when prompted, which helped with the children’s ability to focus on a specific task.
All the activities were designed to enhance emotional, social, and psychological development in the youngsters, giving them the opportunity to practice self-assessment, problem-solving and decision-making skills, as well as creativity. Most importantly, the children were able to share quality time with their parents and friends to help improve their social skills.
The “DOW – EF Development for Successful Youth & Rayong Happiness” project has now expanded to 65 schools and 11 public health institutions in Rayong and has 240 Change Agents helping drive the project through 60 activities. A total of 60,000 people have benefited from this project.