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A total of 500 early childhood teachers are to be trained over the next five years under a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) involving  the Early Childhood Commission (ECC), the HEART Trust/NTA, and Food for the Poor (FFP).

The initiative, which is being funded by FFP at a cost of some $32.5 million, will provide academic scholarships to teachers, who are finding it difficult to upgrade their qualifications due to financial constraints. FFP will disburse 50 scholarships every September and January for the next five years, with the first awards of $65, 000 each made last month.

Speaking at the signing ceremony held today (Oct. 5) at the HEART/Trust NTA’s Oxford Road offices in Kingston, Chairman of the charity, Andrew Mahfood, said the scholarships will give recipients the chance to pursue the National Vocational Qualification of Jamaica (NVQJ) Level 2 Certification in Early Childhood Development, and will also provide travelling and meal allowances for the teachers.

"The purpose of this partnership is to increase the access of teachers to quality training. Qualified teachers should not be an option; it should be mandatory," he stated.

Mr. Mahfood noted that the training of the 500 teachers is part of the charity's Jamaica 50 Campaign to mark the country's Golden Jubilee. Under the initiative, FFP has also committed to the construction and upgrading of 50 basic schools in 50 months.

Education Minister, Rev. the Hon. Ronald Thwaites, who witnessed the signing, welcomed the partnership. He said the training of early childhood teachers is "absolutely essential", as a “very large percentage” of those who operate and teach in the nearly 3,000 institutions in the sector are either under-qualified or not trained.

He informed that the Ministry placed 200 teachers in schools at the beginning of the 2012/13 academic year and "we will be placing another almost 200 with a specialty in special education before the end of this year. This is also a much neglected field and also closely linked to early childhood education," he said.

Acting Executive Director, ECC, Michelle Campbell, informed that currently, 30 per cent of the practitioners within the sector possess only a Level 1 qualification or below.

She noted that the partnership will, therefore, significantly enhance offerings within the sector by producing "equipped and well-trained professionals".

"This training programme will prepare practitioners with the skill sets that support parents, contribute to the functioning of a harmonious and efficient work environment and the importance of offering stellar customer service to children and adults alike," she stated.

For her part, Executive Director, HEART/Trust NTA, Dr. Carolyn Hayle, said the agency is pleased to be a part of such an important venture.

“This ensures that, going forward, we will have a solid platform on which we can develop a sustainable workforce that will help to drive Jamaica’s economic development,” she stated.