KUALA LUMPUR, April 14 2009 (Bernama) -- Developing the nation and its people should begin with early childhood education, said Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.
"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," he said when opening the Malaysian International Early Childcare and Education Conference, on 'Developing Human Capital Begins With Children', here, Tuesday.
Also present were Najib's wife who is also the National Permata Pintar programme patron, Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor, wife of the Pakistani Prime Minister Begum Fauzia Yousaf Raza Gilani, the first lady of Zambia, Thandiwe Banda and wife of Standing Deputy Prime Minister of Laos Bounkongmany Lengsarad.
Najib said while it was the duty of the parents to ensure the child had opportunities to develop, it was 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 a productive member of the nation," he said.
Najib said the family's role had been recognised as being very crucial in shaping and developing children to become resourceful and resilient citizens.
"I wish to re-emphasize the significant responsibility of the family towards human development and enhancement of the cultural, moral and social values of their children.
"Parental guidance is most often in the form of setting good examples for the children to emulate, and this is best done at the child's early age," he said.
Najib, who is also the Finance Minister, said economists had long believed that investment in early education was a good strategy in developing human capital which in turn, was an important source for economic growth.
"Children are the future generations who have the potential to drive the economy of the country as leaders, innovators, entrepreneurs, researchers and economists," he said.
He said the challenge now was to work together to ensure that all children had the best possible start to life through quality care and learning in the earliest years as the benefits in the investment would be seen in future years of their lives.
He said the government had also identified that accessibility and affordability were the major issues pertaining to early childhood education.
He said the government had given a 10 per cent tax reduction per annum to employers who set up childcare centres at the workplace on the cost of establishment of the centre for a period of 10 years as an incentive.
"Government agencies that provide childcare centres at the workplace will be given RM80,000 grant for renovation and furnishing the childcare centre. I would like to urge the private sector to fulfill their corporate social responsibility by providing child care facilities at the workplace for their employees," he said.
Najib said thus, the government had now formulated the National Policy for Early Childhood Education and Care and had also accepted Permata's curriculum as the guiding principle for the national curriculum.
He said the government had decided to roll out the Permata project to government and statutory bodies' childcare centres and an additional RM150 million was allocated to Permata to facilitate its implementation.
"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," he said.
The government had allocated RM20 million for the Permata pilot project under the Ninth Malaysia Plan and within two years, Permata had already established 14 centres throughout the country.