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The Culture, Health, Arts, Sports and Education (CHASE) Fund has to date, allotted $130 million to facilitate the further development of the early childhood education sector.
Overall, the allotment has enabled the implementation of 57 projects in less than two years, which dates back to the official commencement of operations of the Fund in January 2003.
In addition, the funds made available have covered projects involving improvements to physical facilities of schools, including buildings, furniture and fixtures, as well as enhancing teaching aids such as the provision of computers. The funds have also allowed schools and institutions to access assistance for scholarships to upgrade teaching staff, and fund evidence-based research.
According to Billy Heaven, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of CHASE, the Fund specifically targeted the early childhood education sector because effective learning and stimulation began in the early stages of the life of a child.
“We have facilitated a number of significant projects, which we are proud of, because in the end, they will enhance the learning process of children,” the CEO said.
So far, the most common request to the Fund has been for the improvement of physical facilities, such as the repair of leaking roofs, the installation of toilets, furniture and equipment.
“The bulk of our funds have been allocated in the areas of repair, maintenance, refurbishing and construction of new schools and existing schools. This is in addition to providing funds to resource and learning centres, which are different from the basic school plants,” Mr. Heaven said.
Given the growing sensitivity among the Principals of basic schools to introduce computer-based learning in their institutions, there have also been a growing number of applications reflecting this demand.”We have done a number of computer projects, which include setting up computer laboratories, so that children can begin, if not to learn, but certainly to appreciate the use of the equipment,” Mr. Heaven noted.
As for other projects funded, the CEO mentioned the Early Childhood Stimulation and Parent Project, which seeks to improve the growth and development of children from birth to three years of age, and facilitate family functioning in poor households in inner-city communities in Kingston and St. Andrew.
“We are trying to establish what are some of the things that will stimulate children to learn at the early childhood level, which is up to age six. We hope to build on this so that, when they get into the primary school system, they will be able to perform much better,” the CEO said.
CHASE is also working in collaboration with the HEART Trust/NTA, an official training arm of the Ministry of Education, Youth and Culture, on a $60-$70 million teacher-training project, which will see the training of up to 5,000 basic school teachers up to level 2.
Another project, the Environmental Education for Early Childhood Education Centres, which is spearheaded by the Jamaica Environment Trust, is among the several projects assisted by the Fund. The main objectives of the project include garbage management, greening of school grounds, starting/strengthening environment clubs and environmental research.
“We are also in the business of protecting the environment. We believe that at a tender age, children can learn to both appreciate and protect it,” he said.
Meanwhile, Mr. Heaven noted that the demand for funds was high. This was reflected in the current number of requests to CHASE, which were valued in excess of $250 million.
“This is a significant sum, because when compared to the funds received, the figure is way above that level, and therefore CHASE will have to strategise and put in place some mechanism to deal with the growing demand,” Mr. Heaven said.
CHASE is currently funded by mandatory contributions made by lottery licence holders.