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Regulations for the Early Childhood Act were unanimously passed yesterday (September 27), in the House of Representatives. The regulations are intended to make the more than 2,100 early childhood institutions in the island adhere to stipulations which, among other things, address the educational and physical well-being of children and also ensure that the school grounds meet minimum infrastructure and safety standards.
Education, Youth and Culture Minister, Maxine Henry Wilson, explained that the regulations came in the wake of the Early Childhood Act, that serves as the legislative framework under which the Early Childhood Commission (ECC) operates.
The ECC was officially brought into law in 2003, and is a multi-disciplinary, multi-sectoral body that recognises that children aged 0 to seven, have individual needs that should be addressed in a holistic way.
“In piloting the regulations before us,” Minister Henry Wilson said, “the regulations attempt to give expression to the work of the Commission in registering, regulating, setting standards and monitoring the early childhood sector”.
The Minister told the House that while the Education Ministry has acknowledged that many of the early childhood institutions were at different stages in terms of meeting the stipulated requirements, “we have been carrying out the commitment of placing in each of them one trained teacher, and the HEART/NTA has been providing training to caregivers and the Commission itself has been carrying out many different workshops to bring the skill level of the caregivers up to par”.
The ECC, she further said, was currently carrying out pilot registration of early childhood facilities in the parishes of St. Catherine and Clarendon. This would assist the Education Ministry, as the registration would provide a template to be used to register all institutions in the future. The registration process is expected to conclude by January 2006.
In outlining a number of the regulations, Mrs. Henry Wilson indicated that Regulation 3 detailed the conduct of inspections of the institutions. In an instance where a “facility is transferred to a new operator, the new operator will be required to have a new application [to operate the school],” she pointed out.
Regulation 6 of the Act outlines the qualifications, and specifies that employers must hire at least one qualified teacher trained at the Diploma level at a recognised teacher training college. This regulation further notes that operators of early childhood institutions will require training in a number of areas – paediatric first aid; use of universal precautions against blood borne diseases; and recognising child abuse and symptoms of common illnesses.
Regulations 8 and 9, she pointed out “are intended to protect children in terms of a fire safety plan and notification of communicable diseases”.
With respect to child abuse, the Education Minister said under regulation 10, “if an operator discerns that a child is being abused, then he or she should report it to the Commission”.
She explained that both the Early Childhood Act and the Regulations fall within the ambit of other legislation, including the Child Care and Protection Act, which outlines the reporting of abuses.
“The early childhood regulations will support the introduction of guidelines which will facilitate the transformation of education practices, thus ensuring an optimum path to sustainable changes for the early childhood sector,” the Minister said.
Member of Parliament for St. Andrew West Central and Opposition Spokesman on Education, Andrew Holness, while supporting the Early Childhood Act and accompanying regulations, said he welcomed the fact that the Act prohibited corporal punishment.
“I think that is an important step in the development of early childhood education in Jamaica, because I personally hold the view that the violence we seem to be disposed to in our society today starts at the early childhood level where corporal punishment is used in varying degrees,” Mr. Holness said.
To further enhance the regulations, he suggested that serious consideration be paid by the government in standardising proper security fencing at all early childhood institutions.
“I believe that at the infant level, there has to be regulation as to how schools go about granting access to the early childhood premises, who has the right to pick up the child, and of course, proper security fencing,” he added.
Meanwhile, Opposition Leader, Bruce Golding questioned how early childhood institutions, existing in deep rural areas of the country, and inner-city communities would be able to meet the requirements stipulated by the Act and regulations, and not be in contravention, given their limit of resources and physical space.
Minister Henry Wilson, in response, said the purpose of the regulations was “not to attempt to pretend that what you have is a perfect state. it is a set of goals toward which you are working”.
She said there was need for robust and demanding regulations, as if we fell short of accomplishing them, “we would fall short of setting up a world class education system and our children would fall short of the mark”.
The Minister informed that over 1,000 early childhood practitioners have been trained, of which 680 have completed the HEART Level Two programme, which is comparable to the second year at a teacher’s college.
“Those are in addition to 314 college trained teachers who have been placed in basic schools,” she said.
In terms of the quality of the institutions, the Education Minister pointed out that work was on-going on an enhancement of basic school programme funded by the government and the Caribbean Development Bank.
“The idea is to put in each parish and to multiply as we go along, what we consider to be a model institution,” she informed, adding that the Ministry’s Early Childhood Education Unit would be working with the educators and administrators to enhance the quality of the institutions over time.