FIVE hundred practitioners in early childhood education are to benefit from training over the next five years, courtesy of an agreement inked on October 5, National Teachers' Day.
The agreement, which becomes effective this academic year, include Food for the Poor (FFP) Jamaica, the Early Childhood Commission (ECC) and the HEART Trust/NTA. It will ensure that scholarships are provided to practitioners in the early childhood sector who lack the required qualifications owing to financial constraints.
Food for the Poor, which is financing the project, will disburse 50 scholarships, valued at $65,000 each, every September and January for the next five years. The award will give recipients the opportunity to pursue National Vocational Qualification of Jamaica Certification for Early Childhood Development Level II and will cover the cost of tuition, traveling and meal allowances.
All partner organisations are responsible for screening the applicants who will have to submit a character reference from either a pastor or Justice of the Peace in order to qualify for the scholarship award.
The HEART Trust/NTA will administer the programme and train the scholarship recipients over a 12-month period while the ECC will serve as the advisory and monitoring body for the initiative.
Together, the partners will meet monthly for consultations on the progress of the initiative.
In delivering remarks at the signing ceremony, FFP Jamaica Chairman Andrew Mahfood, whose charity is financing the programme to the tune of J$32.5 million, said they were doing so as part of their 'Jamaica 50 Campaign'.
"We want our nation to have the best quality of teachers so we will be supporting those teachers who do not have the means to access advanced training. We will also be assisting those teachers who had been pursuing early childhood education programmes, but have had to discontinue their studies due to financial constraints," he said.
"In demonstrating our commitment to assisting with the development of the island's early childhood sector, we are [also] building and/or upgrading 50 basic schools in 50 months in commemoration of Jamaica's Golden Jubilee," Mahfood added.
The HEART Trust/NTA and the ECC have, for their part, pledged their commitment to the success of the initiative.
"Through the partnership with the Food for the Poor, for the first time we will be able to provide financial assistance directly to the early childhood practitioners who need help in offsetting transportation and related costs," said executive director of the HEART Trust/NTA Dr Carolyn Hayle. "This collaboration will therefore support those who are most in need and ensure that they are able to successfully complete their studies."
Her sentiment was echoed by acting executive director of the ECC Michelle Campbell, who noted her concern that there is currently a training deficit in the early childhood sector.
The new agreement, she said, will provide practitioners with the skills sets that support parents, contribute to the functioning of an efficient work environment and offer stellar customer service to children and adults alike.
"This partnership will enhance the manpower of the sector and produce professionals [who] are equipped to demonstrate the developmentally appropriate practices that foster the physical, emotional, social, cognitive, and spiritual development of children typical and atypical from birth to age six," she said.
Education Minister the Reverend Ronald Thwaites has, in the interim, welcomed news of the scholarship programme, describing it as "the largest possibility of introducing training into the early childhood sector".
At the same time, he predicted that it will yield rich dividends for the recipients, their young charges and the education sector.