The Encarta World English Dictionary defines equal opportunity as "the availability of the same rights, position, and status to all people, regardless of gender, sexual preference, age, race, ethnicity, or religion." In the nursery setting this would mean that each child should be guaranteed access to particpate in all aspects of the nursery setting regardless of their gender, race, ethnicity, social or economic status. A child that is denied access to fully participate in all that the nursery has to offer may feel excluded, have low self-esteem and develop social or emotional problems. The child's right to quality care and education in the early years is not only the responsibility of parents and childcare professionals but also government officials who formulate legislation and policy.
In recent years the issue of children's rights has been the topic of much discussion and debate. The United Nations General Assembly, in recognizing that children are individuals with the rights to survival, development, protection and participation, adopted the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) in 1989. Article 2 of the UNCRC clearly stresses the need to "respect and ensure the rights
(of) each child
without discrimination of any kind, irrespective of the child's
race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, property, disability, birth or other status." The existence of equal opportunity in the nursery setting ensures that the child is allowed the freedom to develop emotionally, physically and spiritually without any discrimination.
Malaysia's commitment to the development of children in the areas of survival, protection and development existed long before Malaysia became a signatory to the UNCRC in 1995. Through the National Action Plan for Children (1991-2000) steps were taken to improve the quality of care for children at childcare centres and kindergartens nationwide. Accordingly, government agencies, non-governmental organizations (NGO) and the private sector run programmes on the basis of total development approach henceforth ensuring the child's well-being and quality living. In concurrence with Article 28 (1) of the UNCRC, which stipulates education for all children, Malaysia has provided access to pre-school programmes for children without discrimination against gender, race, and ethnicity, social or economic status. The government, followed by the NGO's and other private organizations, largely conducts pre-school education. The three agencies responsible for providing pre-school education are the Ministry of Education, which can be considered the lead agency, The Department of Social Development, which concentrates on urban and semi-urban areas and KEMAS (Community Development Division), under the Ministry of Rural Development, which concentrates on the rural areas. The pre-school programmes run by the Ministry of Rural Development ensure that children from the rural areas, particularly those from the low socio-economic group are not deprived of the educational experiences, which can prepare them for primary school. The Ministry of Education has also played its part in helping children from disadvantaged backgrounds through several programs like the Food Supplementary Program, School Milk Program, Textbook Loan Scheme, Boarding Facilities, Poor Student Trust Fund and the Tuition Voucher Scheme (Mokshein, 2004). These measures taken help ensure that the children in the rural areas and those from the low socio-economic group are not left behind by their peers who live in the urban and semi-urban areas.
The Ministry of National Unity also runs pre-school programmes with the objective of inculcating goodwill among the ethnic groups in Malaysia. In doing so, the government has succeeded in implementing the principles stated in Article 30 and 31 of the UNCRC, which describes the provision of equal opportunities for the child of a...
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