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What Kindergarten Looks Like In Southeast Asian Countries

In most parts of the world, kindergarten is generally seen as a child’s very first introduction to education outside the home – a pre-school establishment where children are taught such things as basic language skills, proper interaction and socialization with other kids, etc., to prepare them for the first stages of formal education. 

Kindergarten is regarded much the same way in Southeast Asia; but of course, each country in this region has their own approach to it, which is unique in several aspects, especially in terms of curriculum.

If you are curious about early childhood education in Southeast Asia, then we hope the rest of this piece will give you a good idea of what kindergarten looks like in some Southeast Asian countries.

Children aged between two and seven are eligible for kindergarten in Thailand

What Kindergarten Looks Like In Southeast Asian Countries
The Apple Tree International Kindergarten

Kindergarten in Thailand, while not compulsory, is regarded as part of the pre-school system of early childhood education, and most pre-school institutions offer Kindergarten 1, 2 and 3 levels to pupils aged from two to seven.

Kindergarten classrooms in Thailand are usually well-equipped both for learning and for play, and many even feature mattresses the children can use for their mid-day nap.

A typical day in a Thai kindergarten will see the kids learning about the alphabets and numbers, days of the week, the weather, and so on. Of course, there is also time for stories, craft, and play with toys like Lego. 

From various events celebrated throughout the school year, the children learn to respects their parents and teachers, and to value the Thai culture; they are also taught patriotic values, as well as love for their nation, religions, and the Thai monarchy.

In terms of language, Thai language is the mother tongue of Thai kids and therefore the default language used in Thai kindergartens; but there are also many international schools out there in Thailand where the kids can learn in an English environment.

So many Thai parents in Bangkok especially now opt to enroll their young kids into these international schools so they can learn and have English as a second language.

 “Pre-school” in Singapore can mean either childcare or kindergarten

Kindergarten Bangkok

It is usually not obvious to parents who are newcomers to Singapore, but there is a difference between a child care centre which typically caters to babies from two months of age, has longer hours, and serves two meals a day, and an MOE (Ministry of Education) Kindergarten which features shorter hours and usually no meals.

In general, preschools in Singapore cater to children between 18 months to six years old.

In terms of curriculum, some preschools in Singapore follow a rigid educational system, while others favor a more flexible approach to learning and play. 

If you are particular about the language(s) you would like your child to learn in preschool here, you can choose from a full Mandarin-immersion programme, an English-instruction programme that includes Mandarin lessons, or a bilingual school. Malay and Tamil language programmes are also available.  

Facilities provided in Singapore preschools can be in form of stylish classrooms or outdoor play spaces.

There are 49,000 kindergartens in Indonesia, and 99% are privately run

Kindergarten Indonesia

Preschool education in Indonesia consists of a playgroup (Taman Bermain) which children can attend from age two, and kindergarten (Taman Kanak-Kanak) which they can attend from age four.  And rather than being state run (negeri), the overwhelming majority of kindergartens in Indonesia are privately run (swasta), and therefore are not covered by the government’s free education programme.

Neither the playgroup nor the kindergarten is compulsory, but are recommended as they teach basic counting, reading and writing skills which are designed to prepare children for elementary school.

Indonesian kindergartens usually follow a very rich curriculum that features moral education and religion, Pancasila (state ideology), language skills, creativity, discipline, social skills, and emotional harmony.

It is also not unusual to find the children engaging in various physical activities, or learning manual skills.

Public and private preschools in Malaysia significantly differ in terms of curriculum and goals

Kindergarten Malaysia

In Malaysia children begin their kindergarten experience a bit later at four to five years of age, unlike in many other Southeast Asian countries.

But one thing to remember when choosing a kindergarten here is that the public and private centers follow significantly different curriculums and have different goals.

While the public run schools emphasize social and emotional development, prioritize the government’s goals & objectives, and favor a compact curriculum organized and controlled by the government, private preschools in Malaysia emphasize cognitive development, allow the children’s potential to influence their goals and objectives, and follow a much more diversified curriculum enriched with programs such as modern dance and art, ballet, drama, hand crafting, and even martial arts. 

One notable (private) preschool/kindergarten establishment in Malaysia is the 92 year old German-founded Waldorf School.

Kindergartens in Vietnam are more play-oriented

Kindergarten Vietnam

While Vietnamese kindergartens teach children (usually 18 months to five years old) subjects such as the alphabet and basic arithmetic, the focus in these preschools tends to be more on play, than on academics. 

Kindergarten in Vietnam is more like a nursery with ample opportunities to play and learn the rules of social interaction.

Kindergartens with campuses that emphasize play through their design (such as the ones built in several locations by architecture firm Kientruc O) are not rare sights. The prevailing philosophy is that children should be free to express, explore, and learn in a playful environment.

Noteworthy are the two kinds of facilities for preschool education in Vietnam: “regular forms” featuring crèches and infant (or young shoot) schools, and “irregular forms” where child-keeping groups just take care of children sent to them by families without any formal arrangements.

Children in the crèche and infant facilities usually enjoy a lively and interesting curriculum that typically includes “movements and sensations,” music and “rhythmic movements,” “approach to literature,” moral and personality education, personal and environmental hygiene, and environmental observation. 

While there are many subtle and obvious differences in the ways different Southeast Asian countries approach kindergarten, one thing that appears common to all the countries mentioned is that privately run kindergartens, which are almost always in the majority, cater to children from high and middle income families; while the kindergartens operated by the government and its agencies are specifically targeted at under-privileged children form low income families. 

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