EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION is a critical determinant of economic development. Failure to grasp this not only by policy-makers, but also by parents and others in society will continue to give us in Jamaica what we are currently experiencing in terms of no/low economic growth coinciding with high levels of criminality and anti-social behaviour.
So, if we want a society that sees itself in its full potential and one that is creating wealth on an ongoing basis, one of the critical things to do now is to focus on this area of education within the home and within the society generally.
Our inability to unite around this issue 30 years ago is giving us the results we are seeing today.
Over 30 years ago, in the 1970s, a group of us under the leadership of the late D.R.B. Grant (considered the founder of early childhood education in Jamaica) lobbied for a better understanding of the importance of this type of education for the age group zero to six years.
The Jamaica House Basic School was born to set an example to the rest of Jamaica. So was the Jamaica House Day Care Centre.
In addition, in the 1970s attempts were made to establish backyard nurseries and the Cabinet Wives Association built and operated a Day Care Centre in the industrial Newport West area in collaboration with businesses in that area.
NOT ENOUGH ELEMENTS
Some government ministries set up day care centres in their buildings. We did everything we could but it was not enough. We were just not able to get enough elements in the society interested. What would Jamaica look like today - 33 years later - if, as a society, we could have united around this issue?
If we truly prioritise early childhood education, what could Jamaica look like in 20 years time?
We need therefore, to make early childhood education a priority now to ensure that 20 to 30 years down the line we are not faced with the lack of growth in our economy and the kind of attitudes and behaviour that we are currently experiencing in our country. Parenting plays a critical role in early childhood education.
We are called upon to "step it up" by "whatever means necessary". This is a huge vision and a necessary one as we continue to grow our country out of crime, violence and other aspects of anti-social behaviour. Simply put, enough of our children are just not being brought up.
The fathers and mothers are failing them and the State is failing them. What is the point of prioritizing other areas of education while ignoring the foundation! Building the foundation for education just makes sense.
STEP IT UP
Here, I am not denying that progress has been made. But what I am emphasising is that given what we are experiencing in Jamaica today, we have to stop doing 'business as usual' in this area and "step it up" - by "whatever means necessary".
Given the scientific data that is available to us today about the brain and the phenomenal learning that takes place during these early years, what we are doing is just not enough.
We have to begin to realise that our planning has to ensure that children born today will not become the perpetrators of crime tomorrow, due largely to our neglect as a country. The African maxim that "it takes a village to raise a child" was once practised widely in Jamaica. We have to begin caring again.
Building the foundation leads to higher levels of economic prosperity. At the launch of the Early Childhood Commission a year ago, the chairperson, Dr. Maureen Samms-Vaughan, noted inter alia that "In countries that have wide gaps in the social circumstances of its citizens, the economic prosperity of the citizens at the top of the scale is much lower than in countries where the gaps in social circumstances are not as great".
In the interest of us all and in particular our children, let us place early childhood education as a number one priority in building the foundation for a prosperous and peaceful Jamaica.
Beverley Manley is a broadcaster, gender specialist, transformation trainer and political scientist. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org