Big study on early childhood development a good start

Existing studies focused on early childhood development in Singapore have been cross-sectional - that is, data analysis based on observations at a specific time point - and have relied on smaller samples, usually in the hundreds.

The longitudinal and large-scale national study launched by the Centre for Family and Population Research (CFPR) will be a much-needed research contribution (Reducing inequality with early childhood development; Oct 18).

The study will explore a broad range of factors, including "family resources and relations, parenting attitudes and practices, social support, childcare arrangement and government policies".

This is especially pertinent for public discourse and for policymaking, given the persistent discussions about the country's inequality and class-divide problems.

Three questions, however, speak to the long-term applicability of the findings, and how other endeavours may build upon CFPR's study.

The first relates to the two waves of the core panel survey and whether the survey could be extended to include more waves as the sampled children age.

This is to test whether the hypothesised factors and conditions are consistent across adolescence and young adulthood.

Relatedly, the second question is concerned with how the domains of early childhood development - behaviour, brain and health - as well as the environment the child is situated in - community, family, government and pre-school - are measured.

Would it, for instance, be feasible to gather perspectives from stakeholders outside of the family or household alone? What is the reliability associated with views from parents and children, or how should their social support systems be evaluated?

And third, how should a sustainable corpus of academic research be built around the themes of early childhood development, social stratification and inter-generational mobility in Singapore?

The CFPR study should inspire more large-scale collaborations, perhaps to the extent of organising and sharing the data as a public-use secondary data set, for other researchers to study questions too.

Kwan Jin Yao

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 29, 2018, with the headline 'Big study on early childhood development a good start'. Print Edition | Subscribe