Although giving preschoolers special attention is not something that should be undervalued, it also can help close the multidimensional gap. We should pay more attention to this topic than we have in the past, particularly in big cities like Bangkok, where inequality issues are present.
It is not a metaphysical claim; it is confirmed by studies conducted by economists who have won the Nobel Prize. According to research by Professor James J. Heckman of the University of Chicago, making investments to help children develop in line with their age throughout the first five years of life has a rate of return of 7–10 percent. This calculating technique is illustrated by the processing that predicts returns on early childhood investments of up to 13% for children from birth through their first five years of life in 2016.
Large cities are currently having issues, including Bangkok. The child development facility continues to struggle with management. For this reason, a serious return to the crisis situation could be a key solution for reducing inequality in education and many dimensions in the future.
The issue of children and youth inequality in large cities
The Office of the National Economic and Social Development Council (NESDC) reported that in 2020 there were 1.4 million poor households, or 5.51 percent of all houses, and the average poverty level for the Thai population was 2,762 baht per person per month. Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic has increased the number of “extremely poor” people by 1.61 million, or 26%, from 2019.
When you take a close look at Bangkok’s student population. One percent of all students in Bangkok, or 1,195 extra poor students, had an average monthly income of just 2,287 baht in the 2019 academic year, according to the Equitable Education Fund (EEF) ‘Extra Poor Students’ Dashboard. When considered in detail, it was discovered that of all the special poor children, property ownership was a problem, with 93 percent of all students in extreme poverty having a housing problem, 74 percent having a dependency problem, and 5 percent having access to utilities.
If the children were divided into the three age categories of early childhood (0–4 years), early school age (5–14 years), and high school (15–17 years), it revealed that the early childhood group—the topic of Heckman’s research—had the worst issues. Early childhood is reportedly the stage when a child’s brain development has the greatest chance of influencing their future. It implies that future inequality in Bangkok will be alleviated if investments are made in early childhood or very young children. On the other hand, the inequality issue in many aspects of Bangkok will be even worse than it was if there is no good investment or neglect.
National Education Act B.E. 2542 (1999) has designated early childhood development centers as educational institutions that must have a curriculum to promote child development. At present, Bangkok has only 292 child development centers, and the number of centers that are not related to the size of the problem. The more it suffers from several operational difficulties as well.
The Child Development Center is facing problems.
Unlock Bangkok: A City of Educational Inequality was the theme of the first educational problem mobilization forum, which was hold on by the Equitable Education Fund (EEF) in collaboration with the Education Reform Commission, Office of Knowledge Management and Development (OKMD)(Public Organization), Education Partnership, and Thai PBS. On March 26, 2022, it was stated that the 292 child development centers in Bangkok were responsible for managing more than 19,000 children together, and the number of centers is not spread to the community thoroughly as well.
The concentration rate of 292 Bangkok Child Development Centers is located in Min Buri and Nong Chok districts, 30-40 locations, and 15% of the center’s personnel hold a bachelor’s degree in early childhood. This minority earns 15,000 baht per month, while most of the personnel graduated at the highest level at Mathayom 6 and earn only 7,000 baht per month, which is not reasonable with their knowledge and ability to take care of infants and does not correspond to the cost of living in Bangkok.
Personnel difficulties also discovered that not all workers had compensation increases throughout the course of their employment, that teachers’ salaries were deducted from their vacation time, and that occasionally their salary did not match. If you dig a little further, you’ll still discover that some centers were transferred to the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration’s Social Development Bureau for maintenance. Other tasks include looking after the elderly in addition to small children. As a result, staff members’ workloads are far heavier than their skill level.
Despite the fact that, as was already noted, there will likely be a rise in the number of special poor children in need of urgent treatment, the center’s information coordination has not been developed systematically. Some facts are unprovable, and some institutions might not preserve records of the children they serve. As a result, the child’s requirements or issues are not congruent with the referral to an educational setting.
All of these problems led to ratings from the concerned outside organizations. Only 20 percent of the centers received a “very good” rating. Up to 50 percent of the population belonged to the “fair, improved, and urgently upgraded” level. There are groups that get the necessary level of assessment results when the latter group is further divided. Up to 5 percent of all centers are also undergoing “urgent remodeling.”
In the mobilization forum, the proposal was concluded to solve the problem in five points:
- Transfer the Community Child Development Center into the care of Bangkok.
- Child caregivers and volunteers need more early childhood knowledge.
- Compensation and benefits of personnel must be able to encourage happiness and pride at work.
- Information from the Center must be systematically recorded and easily transmitted.
- The amount of time spent with family has increased, while technological gadget use has decreased.
However, using only these five indicators, a strategy to reduce inequality by raising the quality of child development centers would fall short of its objectives. Decentralization, access to knowledge and books, expanding the number of centers, lengthening the period of care, and budget management for preschool children’s food are just a few of the many aspects of the city’s ongoing fight against inequality that require attention. These issues are all under the control of the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA).
Returning to the Heckman research, it is critical to emphasize that, if appropriately invested in children’s first five years, subsequent gains in returns might be the catalyst for eradicating the gaps that are passed down between generations of people who live in cities. It emphasizes even more how urgent it is for the city to begin taking this issue seriously right away to ensure a better future for everyone.