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Early childhood education gets big boost from Sandals Foundation

BY TANESHA MUNDLE Observer staff reporter mundlet@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, March 20, 2014    

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THE Sandals Foundation on Tuesday stepped up its support for the development of early childhood education with the launch of Project Sprout, an initiative that is expected to help young students achieve their full potential.

The three-year project, which has a budget of $50 million, is aimed at improving the quality and effectiveness of teaching pedagogy, the strengthening of parenting skills, supporting the developmental needs of children in the home and in school-based activities, as well as providing inputs to enhance the learning environment of early childhood institutions across the island.

Projects manager, Sydney Henry, speaking at the launch at Eden Gardens Wellness Resort and Spa in Kingston, described the project as "a targeted intervention that focuses on improving outcomes of students in the 3-5 year-old cohort of selected schools and will measure those outcomes using the grade one individual learning".

According to Henry, the project, which will benefit seven schools, will provide upgrades to infrastructure, supply teaching materials as well as offer teacher-training. Provisions have also been made for an early childhood education specialist and a social worker, while the project will facilitate parental involvement in the child's education at school and home.

Henry said that the intervention was timely and significant given the challenges faced in the provision of early childhood education, pointing out that about 20 per cent of teachers in the sector were not trained while schools were not equipped with adequate teacher training materials. He said, too, that the early childhood sector is normally the last out of the block and was allocated the smallest budget.

Henry was, however, confident that Project Sprout will greatly improve the sector.

"We want to increase to a hundred per cent the number of students in this targeted cohort per school achieving proficiency in the individual grade one learning profile by 2017; we [also] want to increase the provision of human resources, so we have hired teachers and trained them in the use of developmentally appropriate teaching methods that will interpret and deliver the curriculum so that it's relevant and effective in supporting early stimulation and holistic development," said Henry.

He added: "We want to establish as a norm the use of technology in every classroom by 2012; we want to develop environment inside and outside of the classroom adequate resources to serve the needs of the school and strengthen parental awareness and acceptance of their responsibility toward their children to build their capacity and to help them to succeed."

President of the Sandals Foundation and CEO of Sandals Resorts Adam Stewart said he was extremely pleased with the work of the foundation in creating such a comprehensive and holistic project.

He also lauded the foundation for its effort in securing assistance from international partners to help develop the environment, communities and education, primarily at the early childhood level.

"Our board report last year showed that we were able to bring in US$12.6 million in cash and kind and put back in the communities, and this year we are looking to go up US$16 million," he said.

Added Stewart: "It's pretty cool that as a Jamaican-based organisation our foundation is really accessing funds from international markets and our customers and we have had 10,000 volunteers in the five-year period. We have this programme where our customers can go into the communities and read with the children and just two weeks ago we were voted among the top 10 'coolest things to do' by the Huffington Post, which is amazing."

Keynote speaker at the event, Education Minister Ronald Thwaites lauded the foundation for its assistance in helping to improve early childhood education, noting the importance of the children getting a good start at the early childhood level.

"What we do right at the early childhood level will not only help to solve some of the antisocial problems but will also help to reduce crime and violence," he said.

Thwaites, in lauding the foundation on its fifth anniversary, said that the ministry welcomed the support that the sector has been getting from the organisation as well as other charitable organisations as the early childhood education sector needed help to strengthen it further.

Meanwhile, Chairman of the Early Childhood Commission, Dr Maureen Samms Vaughn, said the project was a welcome initiative and that the commission was happy to partner with the foundation on such a venture that will promote quality early childhood education.

"One of the things that we don't speak about much when we speak about early childhood development is quality and we are talking about high-quality education. Early childhood education without quality is not costly and quality means there is a significant cost," she said. "But we cannot afford not to invest in early childhood because it is going to cost us more," she added.

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