The Ministry of Education has devised several strategies aimed at strengthening the early childhood sector, in light of the fact that the formative years are critical to the development of children.
Some of the strategies include: the merging of uneconomical and ineffective basic schools into primary institutions; teacher training; the development of nutrition programmes; and forging partnerships with stakeholders, which will result in the advancement of the sector.
[RELATED: Gov’t Adds $1 Billion to Budget for Early Childhood and Special Education]
This was noted by Senior Advisor to the Minister of Education, Radley Reid, at the opening of an early childhood development conference, at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel in Kingston, on March 25.
Mr. Reid said the Ministry intends to absorb basic schools, where possible, into infant departments of primary schools, which have space and teachers.
“The Ministry is working fervently to provide high quality student places equivalent to 1,600 basic schools that are now too small to be economically viable within the next four years. The Ministry hopes to do so by merging them into primary schools and create infant departments,” he said.
Mr. Reid said the Ministry will be interfacing with trained teachers continuously to place them in early childhood institutions.
“The Ministry will address the quality of early childhood education through nutrition and teacher training,” he said, and noted that there is a shortage of approximately 4,500 early childhood trained teachers in the sector.
He pointed out that parents play a critical role in the advancement of their children, and as such, the Ministry will provide, through ‘Parent Places’, information to support this effort.
‘Parent Places’ are identifiable locations within the communities where parents can access parenting information, courses and workshops, mentoring support from other parents, and income-support training activities.
The Senior Advisor also said the Ministry is expected to upgrade several resource centres islandwide to make them available to the basic schools.
He emphasised that improving existing infrastructure and building new infant schools, through partnerships, are vital to strengthening the early childhood sector, which will ensure that children are prepared for learning at higher levels of the educational system.
“If we get it right at the early childhood level, the primary level will increase; we will get better results at the Grade Four Numeracy and Literacy tests and we will get better and improved grades at the GSAT, and ultimately at the CSEC and CAPE levels,” he said.
He thanked the thousands of persons who have contributed to the sector over the years, especially the early pioneers, such as Dudley Ransford Grant.
“D. R. B Grant was a visionary. He was the father of early childhood education in Jamaica. He understood the importance of this level of education to the vast majority of children between ages three to six. He knew too well that the formative years are critical to the development of children,” he said.
Of the more than 2,600 early childhood institutions in the island, 1,909 are basic schools; 134 are infant departments; 460 are privately operated institutions, such as kindergartens, and the others are nursery and day-care centres.
The conference, which is being staged by the Dudley Grant Memorial Trust, is slated to end on Tuesday, March 26. It is being held under the theme: ‘Early Childhood Development for Nation Building in Jamaica: Retrospective and Prospective’.
By Chris Patterson, JIS Reporter