Does the State really care about early childhood education?

Friday, November 23, 2012

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Two stories reported in this newspaper this week have given us cause to question the State's commitment to the education of our children in their formative years.

The first came out of our Monday Exchange with the Early Childhood Commission, while the second dealt with information revealed in the Auditor General's special audit of Nutrition Products Limited (NPL), the State agency that provides low-cost snacks for public school students under the school feeding programme.

In the former case, the chair of the Early Childhood Commission, Professor Maureen Samms-Vaughan, told us that the Government's allocation to early childhood development was $2.2 billion, or less than three per cent of the education ministry's overall budget.

Professor Samms-Vaughan made the revelation in response to a question from Observer journalists as she lamented the need for more resources, the most urgent being trained teachers.

According to Professor Samms-Vaughan, the early childhood system does not have a trained teacher in every basic school. In fact, only 20 per cent of trained early childhood teachers are in the system, and they are inequitably distributed, because among that number are those in preparatory schools.

The upshot is that the Early Childhood Commission, in a commendable display of initiative, has formulated a plan to approach the private sector for assistance in getting more trained teachers into the early childhood sector.

We encourage those firms that are approached to do their best to help. For we all know the importance of equipping minds at the early childhood stage with the right values, attitudes, and thought processes.

But even as we make this appeal, we must point out that our legislators should be ashamed that the commission has had to resort to that strategy.

There's not one member of the Parliament who will disagree that early childhood education is extremely important. In fact, Professor Samms-Vaughan expressed pleasure that the National Parenting Support Commission bill received unanimous approval in both Houses, thereby giving the Early Childhood Commission the authority to establish special facilities where parents can receive much-needed advice and support.

That kind of service is key to the shaping of young minds and will go a far way in preparing our children for adulthood.

But those facilities will need money if they are to be effectively run. Therefore, if the Government is really convinced about the importance of early childhood education, they will increase the budgetary allocation to that sector.

In the case of Nutrition Products Limited, we are unable to fathom the thinking that has allowed so many of the trucks that deliver milk and other food products to schools to remain unrefrigerated.

Auditor General Pamela Monroe Ellis has reported that only six of the 46 trucks are so equipped.

The result is that between May 2010 and October 2011, the NPL dumped 83,957 items, including more than 22,000 spoilt bullas and 33,000 pints of milk.

So what we have here is children being deprived of nutrition, and taxpayers' dollars going to waste because of governmental incompetence.

Last year February, Mr Andrew Holness, who was then the education minister, had told the Parliament that the Government intended to divest NPL.

It should be done, because that, we believe, would prevent a recurrence of the present shame.




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