We in this space are always pleased when education gets the attention it deserves in the national conversation. However, there can be nothing but concern when what is seen whittles down to perpetuating lop-sided development.
Reports that Governor General Sir Patrick Allen, alongside leaders in the education sector, on Tuesday declared 2022 The Year of Early Childhood Development are commendable by themselves, but what must be questioned is the analysis which resulted in the decision to focus on this level of the already spiralling education system.
Newscasts are replete with varying values being attached to the system-wide learning loss being experienced as a casualty of the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic. Still, there has been little fingers pointed at any particular level of the system having suffered greater fallout than the other.
What is sure, however, is that performance levels in diagnostic examinations have fallen, exit examinations face questions of quality, and already the quantum of prepared and qualified school leavers has taken a hit.
Learning loss is a complex and complicated phenomenon and 'learning recovery' is not simply 'catching up'; it requires a doubling down of efforts to regain instruction in the curriculum, social skills, and what socio-psychologist call the hidden curriculum.
Though there have been improvements in access to the Internet and electronics across the island, too many reports abound for youngsters still being off the grid, as it were, or do not have the requisite in-home tools to even facilitate an earnest attempt to keep up with lessons.
No doubt, the commissioners of the Early Childhood Commission must fulfil their mandate and need national support, but we dare to offer that the same effort is needed across the length and breadth of the education system.
There is, therefore, a charge for all stakeholders, at all levels of the system, to advocate for the greatest effort and investment in education at this time.
We take heart in Education and Youth Minister Fayval Williams stating at the launch event that efforts are being made to “enable every child to have the best chance to flourish in life, regardless of their family backgrounds and resources”, but must encourage her to fuel and fund similar programmes at the varying levels of the system so that the country might not in years to come have to battle gaps in the preparation of the emerging workforce.
It would be good, too, if the Office of the Governor General, as it continues to find its relevance in independent Jamaica, and grants its imprimatur to such programmes, that it works with the other organs of the education system to cast a light on the needs where they exist.
Indeed, “There is nothing wrong with Jamaica that cannot be fixed by what is right with Jamaica,” and so where efforts can be channelled in making systemic and wide-scale improvements, such opportunities must be seized by the nation's leaders.
We pour no cold water on The Year of Early Childhood Development, but ask that a wider lens be cast on this sector of a nation facing many potholes as it heads towards a Vision 2030 of being “the place of choice to live, work, raise families, and do business”.
Let's balance out the development.