Eugena Robinson | Don't be shackled by early childhood curriculum
Let me remind you that the period for early childhood education refers to birth to eight years. This is the period when children's minds are like bits of sponge, ready to absorb what is of interest to them.
We know that young children are creative beings, but school, in the interest of education, tends to destroy children's creativity. Children are shown and told what to do. If a classroom is provided with all kinds of junk, building blocks, water, sand, scissors, paint, modelling clay, scales, rulers, strings, and children are allowed to play and sometimes given problems to solve, the creative teacher is able to open the vents to get children ready to read and write.
If I ask many successful parents reading this article, "When did you teach your child to read?", they will be puzzled to find an answer. My children were never taught to read but they started school reading before entering the classroom. There is no occasion whatever for the early teaching of dead reading, dead vocabulary, a meaningless 'three plus three'.
Sylvia Aston Warner said that when inorganic reading is imposed first, it interferes with integration; and it's upon the integrated personality that everything is built. Children enter their classrooms every morning and wait on teachers' instructions. Today, for example, they are going to learn about fractions, which carry no interest into their lives.
Let's examine these problems. (1) Grandma gives seven children half a bulla each. How many bullas did Grandma use? The creative children will draw or make bullas from modelling clay or draw and cut them out. (2) There are 25 children in the class. Each bulla is cut into two equal pieces. How many whole bullas will we need for the class? These children need no direction about halves. They will be making bullas or drawing them to answer the problem. We are simply opening the creative vents, and by so doing the answers will come through the children's own creativity.
Children can be destructive without reason, and the only answer to stop destruction is to provide a home or classroom built on creativity. Children will be writing their own bulla statements and will be asking for spelling help.
I introduced my infant children at circle time to the letters of the alphabet. With all 26 letters posted at eye level at circle time, I introduced each child to his/her letter. Before the end of the second week, all 25 children knew each child's letter. We then created a graph and discovered many facts. For example, most children have the same beginning letter; there were no children's names beginning with certain letters.
The alphabet became alive and useful. The concepts of few, some, all and none were understood.
What do we find in the infant curriculum? Children are taught the letter N and T at first. I asked a teacher when would she teach letters Y and W. Her response was, "Letter Y comes in Term Three." "So, when will Yvonne learn her name?" She gave me a blank stare. This is the extent to which teachers teach the curriculum and not the children.
The present early childhood curriculum is not benefiting many of our young children who, from three years old, are taking homework books home. What kind of guidance can some ill-informed parents give? What pressure are some parents placing on young children to write? Now we understand why so many of our primary children struggle.
GUIDED BY CURRICULUM
Teachers spend all their weekends writing up to 17 pages of lesson plans with instruction drawn from the curriculum. The next week, they move on to the new lessons as they are guided by the curriculum. Is there any wonder why our children enter school and they wait, and wait, and wait to be told the next task?
I taught in a depressed area in East London without ever seeing a curriculum or ever writing a lesson plan. The outcome was a classroom declared 'a demonstration class'. I found a text called Nuffield Mathematics and it became my companion for guiding the development of early mathematics.
We must stop destroying teachers with these pages and pages of lesson plans that they write for their supervisors and which they publicly say , "I write these plans for the supervisors; they are of no use to me."
The new Scholastic Mathematics has now found its way into a few schools and I am delighted. Scholastic Mathematics originates in a region that offers the best education in the world.
We need a radical change in teacher training. We must allow more flexibility to our teachers who need a chance to be creative. The problem here is that those monthly tests that teachers have to do are created from the curriculum, therefore, teachers must teach for the tests.
I am surprised that Mico (my college) has just published new findings in mathematics. There is nothing new. Mico, during the earlier years, produced great mathematics teachers who, even after retirement, continued to teach the subject on Saturdays.
The school inspectorate has been reporting to politicians who are responsible to make changes. How long will poor people in Jamaica wait to get better-quality education for their children?
I suggest that we begin to build more early childhood schools. The rate of pregnancy among the very young is a very serious matter, which is another ripple effect from poor-quality education. The statistics will continue to tell us what we already know. With a solid early childhood programme, secondary schools will benefit. Teachers are doing the best that they can, but that best is not good enough.