A Culturally-Sensitive Tool to Assess Asia’s Young Children
Children tend to be precocious in the skills that are valued in their culture.
A team of scholars led by the Faculty of Education has produced the first child development tool to be based on the cultures and values of a world region – East Asia – and that is supported by UNICEF.
The East Asia-Pacific Early Childhood Development Scales(EAP-ECDS) to assess children aged 3-5 years old was developed with the input and participation of organisations or governments from eight countries, including China, Cambodia, Laos, Mongolia, the Philippines, Thailand, Vanuatu and Vietnam.
The impetus behind the EAP-ECDS came from concerns that most such tools are based on Western populations and norms and many children in the Asia-Pacific region are not reaching their developmental potential, such as having stunted growth or being ill-prepared for school. Professor Nirmala Rao, who leads the research, said, “Measurement is the first step to improvement. We need appropriate tools that are valid, reliable and culturally appropriate to assess child development.”
While there are universal milestones for all children, such as cognitive and psycho-emotional development, some indicators matter more in some countries than in others. Health hygiene and safety, for instance, are particularly important in Asia given the threats of infectious diseases. Cultural knowledge and participation is also important, such as filial piety and awareness of behaviour around traditional festivals. The EAP-ECDS therefore includes measures on these topics.
“All children develop these skills but children tend to be precocious in the skills that are valued in their culture. That’s why this scale is different,” Professor Rao said.
She and her team trawled through more than 1,700 indicators of child development from the participating countries to create the scales, which underwent validation studies in six original participating countries as well as Myanmar. The Scales are currently being used in research projects in Cambodia, Papua New Guinea and Vietnam. Professor Rao is working on an impact study to see how the tool has affected their policies, in particular whether it is helping governments to address disparities in early childhood outcomes between urban and rural children and boys and girls.
“We’re saying to countries, don’t compare yourself to other countries – this is not a league table. But get the rural children up to the level of urban children and the boys up to the level of girls,” she said.
The EAP-ECDS has also informed the monitoring indicator of the United Nations’ sustainable development target to ensure all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care and pre-primary education by 2030. Professor Rao is involved in another on-going project on assessing this outcome.
Professor Nirmala Raoand her team members, Dr Diana Pui-ling Lee of the Faculty of Education, Professor John Bacon-Shone of the Social Sciences Research Centre and Dr Patrick Ip of the Department of Paediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, received the Faculty Knowledge Exchange Award 2018 of the Faculty of Education for the project ‘Impacting Early Childhood Policy in East Asia and the Pacific through Contextually-appropriate Assessment of Early Child Development’.