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Parish councils hampering basic schools upgrade

Published:Thursday | December 10, 2015 | 12:00 AMChristopher Serju

The process to get the country's estimated 2,700 day-care centres/early-childhood institutions up to the required operational standards in order for them to get the stamp of approval from the Early Childhood Commission, for having attained its global benchmark, is being hampered in large measure by the tardiness of parish councils.

"Some of the things that are preventing them from becoming fully certified are outside of our reach, like working with other agencies. They need a parish council's approval of change of use of the property. We have a lot of them which are at 98 per cent (readiness) and the only thing keeping them back is parish council approval," Marlene Turner, registrar of the Commission told The Gleaner last Wednesday.

Early-childhood development is internationally accepted as the period from birth to three years old and the ultimate aim of the Early Childhood Commission is to maximise the learning/development potential of the toddlers.

"There are many things happening to our children and so the period requires close attention and appropriate development," added Dr Joan Reid, executive director of the commission," during an Editor's Forum hosted by The Gleaner at its North Street head office.

transition process

And while the agency has been getting some good results from its efforts to upgrade many of the former basic schools which were started in homes, by retired teachers and other well-intentioned persons, the overall transition process has been very costly and time-consuming.

"The Early Childhood Act speaks specifically to renewing that police record every year, so now it was becoming onerous on the institutions, practitioners and the operators to find that money twice a year as a matter of fact," Turner explained.

In addition to the cost of food handler's permits for all caregivers, the facilities also had to be certified by the Jamaica Fire Brigade and Ministry of Health, a situation which proved very tedious, according to Turner.

"When the call for registration came and the officers started going out, at that time the cost for a police record was $1,500 and with the influx on the police department they couldn't handle it because prior to that, early-childhood operators and practitioners did not need to have a police record.

"Then at the time, everybody had to come to Kingston. So for an institution to allow all employees to get a police record they had to close school and everybody had to come to Kingston and then after that they had to make another trip into Kingston; it was not a same-day-process."

minimum wage

With some of the caregivers earning less than minimum wage, the additional cost of transportation, lunch and other incidents proved to be quite a deterrent. The commission then lobbied the Fire Brigade, which lowered the cost of its certificate, with the public health department also offering a discounted rate for early-childhood practitioners and institutions. And even though the cost of the police record has since doubled to $3,000 there have been some gains made in respect of the police records, Turner disclosed.

"The then commissioner of police had made arrangements for them (practitioners) to go to police stations that were close to them to do the fingerprinting and the police would send the prints into Kingston. So that proved very effective in expediting the process."

Working with a range of state agencies, with support from the private sector and communities, the Ministry of Education through the Early Childhood Commission is on a mission to ensure that all children in Jamaica are developmentally ready by the time they enter basic school at age three. However, Michelle Campbell, director, sector support services, explained that the cross-cutting nature of the collaboration required is for successful implementation.

She explained: "Achieving developmentally ready children does not start at the age of three when they enter basic school. It starts at birth and what the Early Childhood Commission is doing, is working very closely with not only the Ministry of Education but also the Ministry of Health because at that age we have to work very closely with parents and their children to ensure that they are giving them the stimulation that they need to help them develop. So by the time they leave us and go into the basic schools, they are well prepared with the skills to continue on into primary."