Last week this column highlighted the importance of early childhood education and the contribution of the Kiwanis Foundation of Jamaica to the process. Today we take another look at the importance of early childhood education and the outstanding work of the Early Childhood Commission under the chairmanship of Professor Maureen Samms-Vaughan and the daily leadership of executive director, Winsome Johns-Gayle.
It is worthwhile beginning with quotations from both Professor Samms-Vaughan and Beverley Anderson-Manley, broadcaster, gender specialist, transformation and political scientist, who was instrumental in starting the Jamaica House Basic School and Jamaica House Day Care Centre in 1974.
Stressing the importance of investing in early childhood education, Samms-Vaughan says: "Early childhood development is important to Jamaica as it is to any other country, because this is the time that children's brains are developing maximally and it is also the time when we get the greatest investment on education. For every dollar invested in a child in the early childhood
period, we get returns on investment of about 17-18 times and it is the highest rate of returns. The returns on investment come in many forms, and these include a reduction in crime and violence and teenage pregnancy; higher educational levels and school attainment. Also fewer people being dependent on the state for support."
Says Anderson-Manley: "Early childhood education is a critical determinant of economic development. Failure to grasp this not only by political policy makers but also by parents and others in society will continue to give us in Jamaica what we are currently experiencing in terms of no/low economic growth coinciding with a high level of criminality."
Early childhood education in Jamaica has made significant progress since the Inspection and Regulatory System for Early Childhood Institutions (ECIs) was established in 2007 by the Early Childhood Commission, following legislation for the Early Childhood Act and Regulations. The ECC is responsible for the comprehensive development of all children from birth to eight years of age.
The comprehensive approach to early childhood development was the driver behind the development of the cross-sectoral National Strategic Plan for Early Childhood Development, 2008-2013, which was formulated after broad consultation with stakeholders and research on the status of services for young children.
There are seven critical areas which were considered and action taken: parenting; screening and early identification of children with special needs; preventative health care; achieving high quality early childhood institutions; appropriate curriculum for children and trained teachers; all agencies working together to meet targets; and accurate and timely information to guide plans and programmes.
The creation of high quality early childhood schools is critical to the development of early childhood education, so an important step was taken three years ago when Minister of Education Andrew Holness called for owners and operators of schools to apply for registration. Some stringent requirements had to be met in applying: application for registration which includes evidence of health and safety measures (public health reports, fire safety reports and police records for all staff) and education quality, including teacher qualification certificates, inspection by ECC inspector, and production of inspector report. Recommendation may be made to the minister of education for closure if the school endangers the welfare of its children by breaching the stipulated health and safety standards. A permit to operate is issued if all health and safety standards are met, and full registration takes place only when all legal standards have been met.
Last year the commission carried out an inspection of Early Childhood Institutions and the result was rather interesting. A total of 2,834 institutions were identified of which 91 per cent applied for registration. Seventy-five per cent were community basic schools, 20 per cent day care/nursery/pre-school and kindergarten and five per cent infant schools. 2277 ECIs were inspected: 80 per cent of all ECIs and 89 per cent of all those that have applied for registration.
Teaching is a crucial element in early childhood education and the ECC took a special interest in teacher qualification. There are 8181 Early Childhood Practitioners, of which 7312 have confirmed qualifications: 18.5 per cent at the primary level, 4.4 per cent secondary,14.1 per cent diploma, 8 per cent BA degrees, 0.7 per cent MA degrees and 50.5 per cent at the vocational level. The reasons for some early childhood institutions not getting full registration include having an unacceptable ratio of children to teacher as well as insufficient number of trained teachers at the ECI.
A comprehensive human resource strategy to improve the proportion of trained teachers in the early childhood sector is being undertaken. The ECC is also working with the NCTVET/HEART Trust in the revision and development of the vocational programmes in early childhood development.
The short- and medium-term measures involve the provision of development support to ECIs, particularly community basic schools and day care centres. This is done by development officers from the ECC, many of whom are trained to the Master's level, providing curriculum training and demonstration lessons; as well as classroom observation and intervention. Additionally, development officers are trained to assist in improving health and safety standards in the schools.