KINGSTON — Of the 2,600 Early Childhood Institutions (ECI) located across Jamaica, 31 of them are fully subsidized by the government, while the others are partially subsidized. The 32nd ECI to fall in that category for full subsidy was taken onboard on Friday September 9, when the Sandals Foundation handed over the Culloden Early Childhood Institute, located in Westmoreland, to the Culloden community, after spending some $11 million to construct the facility.
Speaking at a ceremony to mark the official opening of the facility, Minister of Education, Hon. Andrew Holness, announced that with the once privately run facility now meeting all the required regulatory standards, the government, through the Ministry of Education, is prepared to take over the facility fully.
"What we are committed to do once a corporate sponsor, local philanthropist or an International philanthropist comes in and builds the school, we will take over that school, and by that we mean we will pay the Principal and the Teachers, so they become employed to the Ministry of Education," he stated.
He continued by stating, “They will get the grants that we normally give to our infant schools, so they will get a nutrition grant and they will get some assistance for material, for books and such”.
The Education Minister made the announcement while, at the same time, highlighting the hurdles present in running an ECI privately, also commending the operators of these institutions for the personal sacrifices being made to keep them open.
He expressed the view that a dollar invested at the Early Childhood Level, gives 17 times the return of investing anywhere else in the education system, adding that the government is cognizant of that and despite limited available funds is prepared to invest as much as is possible in the Early Childhood Education system.
Against this background, Minister Holness noted that the situation presents an opportunity for a great partnership between government and the private sector for the construction and operation of schools.
President of the Sandals Foundation Board of Directors, Adam Stewart, in his comments, expressed the view that the design model used in the construction of the education facility, is one which involves the utilization of the latest technological techniques, which could be used as a prototype across the island.
"Using solar, natural ventilation, having water catchments, trying to take off, as utilities increase worldwide, the overhead of keeping this facility alive", he stated.
He expressed the hope that the institution will be kept going for a long time.
Principal of the Culloden Early Childhood Institute since 1999, Janet Briggs, in giving a brief history of the facility, pointed out that it started as the Culloden Basic School in 1974, catering for students three to six years old. The school has operated from several different locations in the district, before taking up its permanent residence at its present location, courtesy of the Sandals and the Yellow Bird Foundations.
The facility was adopted by Sandals Whitehouse in 2005, and now boasts over 130 students and eight Teachers.
By Bryan Miller, JIS Reporter