Datuk Dr. Chiam Heng Keng, formerly the Professor of Social Psychology in the University of Malaya, is a well-known authority in child development and early childhood education and is regarded by many to be the foremost authority in early childhood education in Malaysia.
Datuk Dr Chiam Heng Keng, formerly the Professor of Social Psychology in the University of Malaya, is a well-known authority in child development and early childhood education and is regarded by many to be the foremost authority in early childhood education in Malaysia. She was the founder of the Bachelor and Master in Early Childhood Education at the University of Malaya, the first of their kind in Malaysia. She also designed the Executive Diploma in Early Childhood Education at the University of Malaya which is also the first of its kind in the country. Her first batch of students in Early Childhood Education graduated in 2000; this probably marked the beginning of professionalism in early child care and education in Malaysia.
Her interest in and compassion for education in the early years began only in the late 1990s. In her early years as an academician in the University of Malaysia, her interest and expertise was in the development of adolescents, their problems, alienation and juvenile delinquency. Her extensive research in these areas in the 1970s and early 1980s consistently showed that the problems of adolescents have their roots in the early years. She then turned her attention to research on children in their formative years. She headed a 10-year cross-sectional and longitudinal research on the development of children aged 3-6 years, which involved 3 psychologists, 1 sociologist, 2 paediatricians, 1 parasitologist, 1 dietician and numerous research assistants, with funding from the Bernard van Leer Foundation. The findings of this research disclosed that the gap in development, especially language and cognitive development, between children from socio-culturally advantaged environment and those from socio-culturally deprived environment increased with age. This made her realize the great importance of the environment in the early years of the child’s life and the need for quality and properly trained early childhood educators to level the playing field for children’s development. She was spurred to found the Diploma, Bachelor and Master in Early Childhood Education to achieve professionalism in early childhood education and to cater to the various levels of education and needs of early childhood practitioners.To promote professionalism in early childhood education, she founded the Association of Professional Early Childhood Educators, Malaysia (MAPECE) in 2005.
Her numerous studies on adolescents’ development also showed the loss in potential and talents among children and adolescents in Malaysia. In the 1980’s, in collaboration with Mensa Malaysia, she organized several seminars and brought in experts to raise awareness of the plight of gifted children. She founded the National Association for the Gifted, Malaysia. She declined to be the Founder President of the Society but was its Advisor for many years and was also the Consulting Psychologist for Mensa Malaysia until her other responsibilities and commitments did not permit her to hold these two positions.
From the 1980s to the present, she serves in numerous committees as chairperson, members or advisors, both nationally and internationally. She was involved in the Alternative Childcare Project – A project of then the Ministry of Social Welfare and Bernard van Leer Foundation. During this time, she actively participated in several Bernard van Leer-funded projects at international level such as being a member of the Panel of Consultants for Developing Programmes for the Regional Training and Resource Centre for Early Child Care and Education for Asia.
She was a Member of the Board of Directors of the National Population and Family Development; Member of the Independent Inquiry Committee into Student Segregation, Ministry of Education (2002); Member of the Special Committee to Investigate the Administration of SPM Examination 2002,Ministry of Education; Member of Steering Committee on Discipline, MOE (2000-2001);Chairperson of Panel of Evaluators for Education, Social Science and Economics Sector for IRPA Funding, Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment; Chairperson, Taskforce for the Children Discovery Gallery, National Science Centre, Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment and on completion of the National Science Centre, was appointed to the Advisory Council for the Science Centre where she remained as a member till 2009; Member of Group of Experts for Cabinet Committee on Social Problems Eradication (1996); Chairperson, Technical Committee for Module on Women’s Health Education, Project of the Federation of Family Planning Associations in Malaysia (1993-1996); Member of the National Counseling Council (to advise on the setting up of Counseling Council as a professional body), Ministry of National Unity and Community Development (1993-1998); Member of Drug Rehabilitation in Schools, 1997-2003, Ministry of Home Affairs; member for the Development of National Occupational Standards for Childcare Providers, Ministry of Human Resources and Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development (2007-2008); and Member for the Development of National Preschool Curriculum, 2000-2002.
She continues to sit on the National Council for Coordinating the Protection of Children, Social Welfare Department; the National Advisory and Consultant Council, Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development; and the Committee for the Accreditation of Basic Childcare Training Course, Department of Social Welfare.
Currently, she chairs the committee for Children Under Remand and is involved in several early childhood curriculum development such as Early Learning and Development Standards for Children Below 4 Years of Age; Verification of Early Learning and Development Standards for Children Below 4 Years and Assessment of Preschool Children.
She was a Human Rights Commissioner from the inception of the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia in 2000 to 2010; she was one of the three longest serving Human Rights Commissioner in Malaysia. In April 2010 she was appointed by the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development as Malaysia’s Representative (for Children) to the ASEAN Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Women and Children.
Internationally she served on several committees. She was, at one stage actively involved with the Society for the Study of Human Development (ISSBD). She was a member of Technical Committee to Supervise Conferences and Workshops Sponsored by ISSBD; Member of the International Programme Committee for the 9th and 10th ISSBD Conference; Ad Hoc Committee for Training and Policy-related Activity of ISSBD and was a facilitator for several international workshops sponsored by ISSBD. She was a member of the Regional Programme of the International Planned Parenthood Fund Committee. On the academic front, she was a member of Review Committee for journals such as Journal of Social Sciences, Interdisciplinary Reflection of Contemporary Society, 1997; International Journal of Social Psychology (1997 & 1997); International Journal of Behavioral Development (1991); Cross-cultural Psychology (1990) and is currently a member of Review Board for International Journal of Child Care and Educational Policy. She was also involved in preparing reports (e.g. Family and Early Childhood Education in Asia and the Pacific for tabling at the 29th General Assembly of UNESCO, 1997) and training modules such Handbook on Childrearing Practices for Asian Children.
She publishes extensively: she contributes to professional journals, authors books and chapters in books and was a columnist for The Star for more than 10 years. She participates in conferences, forums, seminars and workshops nationally and internationally as keynote speaker, plenary presenter or resource personnel.
In 2010, she was invited by the Performance, Management and Delivery Unit (PEMANDU) in the Prime Minister Department to be a participant in the National Key Economic Areas (NKEA) under the Economic Transformation Programme for Preschool Education (which was later extended to Early Child Care Education). Before the conclusion of the lab, she was tasked to set up the Early Child Care and Education Council. At the conclusion of the lab, she was appointed to champion Entry Point Project 1 (EPP1)