Inner-city early childhood education success ignites islandwide push
Awed by the achievements under the Building Academic Success for Inner-City Schools (BASICS) initiative in the tough South St Andrew community, the education ministry is looking to replicate this in many of the other ailing early childhood institutions (ECIs).
BASICS is a partnership between the education ministry and the University of the West Indies, which aimed to transform 28 ECI's in South St Andrew, which includes inner-city communities such as Arnett Gardens, better known as 'Jungle', Jones Town and Admiral Town.
These 28 schools were heavily under-resourced and made up of students mostly from low-income families.
Under BASICS, the plan was to attempt to implement a literacy and numeracy model that could be used throughout the 2,600 ECIs across the island.
After three years of implementation of the BASICS project, the findings from an evaluation report indicate that it has made a strong impact on the lives of the students, parents, teachers and principals at the participating schools.
There was evidence of physical, academic, spatial, emotional and psychosocial impact for all participants.
The evaluation report, which was presented recently to the Ministry of Education, found that the students developed higher rates of numeracy skills than
literacy skills throughout their time in the BASICS Project.
According to lead evaluator Dr Saran Stewart, the survey findings indicated the children loved learning, noting that despite the communities that the schools are in, it does not deter the children from having fun with literacy and numeracy.
Stewart highlighted that with more children seeming to master numeracy skills better than literacy skills, early childhood specialists need to address this as quickly and as early as possible, because both sets of skills work hand in hand in the holistic development of children.
The report also disclosed that 91 per cent of participating teachers believed that the information provided at the training was beneficial, and that the in-service training improved their teaching, with 88 per cent adding that it improved their content knowledge.
Additionally, 94 per cent of the participants indicated that they have been able to apply the strategies learned from the in-service training to their class. A high percentage (81%) indicated that the number of sessions were sufficient.
Many of the participants said that the sustainability of the BASICS project's core competencies have begun to be institutionalised within each basic school.
Additionally, 91 per cent of the participants disclosed that they have been using and reinforcing the strategies from the programme in their classroom, while 94 per cent of them believed that they are able to carry on the lessons learned from the project.
Project coordinators Dr Rose Davies and Dr Joan Ernandez disclosed during a recent presentation of the evaluation report to officials of the Ministry of Education that in-service professional development workshops were the best part of the BASICS project.
The workshops were well attended and met with much enthusiasm and most of the teachers reported incorporating the lessons learned in the workshops in their day-to day class activities and routines.
Those who were untrained for early childhood education reported that they benefited greatly, as they used each workshop to better enhance their knowledge content and delivery methods.
The coordinators said sustainable initiatives have started with the meeting of the principals' association. However, more concrete steps and measures of accountability need to be put in place.
They said parental involvement was also assessed and found to be somewhat improved when parents attended the workshops.
According to the coordinators: "Parents who attended and learned from the workshops took away lessons on disciplining children and the importance of attending school."
Reacting to the success of the BASICS project, Education Minister Ronald Thwaites said the initiative had filled a vital need in the early childhood sector.
"We are impressed with the programme and have placed it at the highest level for intervention in the early childhood sector," said Thwaites.
"In this sector, we still have not achieved enough to adequately prepare the children at this level for their transition into the primary-school system. This is a programme that should be adopted at the basic school level islandwide. We have to get this sector to a higher level and it must be done right now," added Thwaites.