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'Empower the nation'schildren to secure the future'

Published:Wednesday | April 18, 2012 | 12:00 AM
Children of the Sandhurst Early Childhood Centre at the school's Children's Day and treat that was put on in partnership with the Barbican Foster Davis Drive Neighbourhood Watch last year. - FILE

Deika Morrison, Contributor

ON MAY 10, 2012 Governor General Sir Patrick Allen will deliver the Throne Speech outlining the Government's agenda for this Parliamentary year that began April 1.

On that same day, the minister of finance will present the Estimates of Expenditure outlining the allocation of financial resources to achieve that agenda. If the 2011 People's National Party (PNP) manifesto were a guide, as it should be, these presentations should reflect the 18 priorities, or as the PNP has named them "18 steps to full people empowerment", outlined in its manifesto.

After all, since a manifesto is what a party uses as its promises should it be elected, one could say that when the people voted overwhelmingly for the PNP last December, they voted overwhelmingly to become empowered.

Empowerment

The simplest definition of the word "empower" is "to equip or supply with an ability; enable." Without a doubt, education is the ultimate enabler providing critical knowledge for survival and growth, the ability to learn and also the ability to know, understand and defend your rights.

True empowerment starts in the early years at the time when children learn the fastest and the best; it is when the solid foundation for life and learning must be laid. The PNP seems to recognise this. In the manifesto, the party leader and now prime minister, specifically proposed "a new focus on early-childhood education".

Indeed, the PNP's own 'Empowerment Step Number 14' starts with the words: "Restore the emphasis on early education..." In the document, we are assured that the PNP will, not may, take a number of definitive steps to improve early-childhood education specifically in quality, access, teacher training and availability, nutrition, testing and evaluation.

Of special interest is the promise that "the next PNP administration will pursue alternative financing models to increase equity and quality access across the national early-childhood sector."

Indeed, alternative financing models are fitting for early-childhood expenditure, which in reality is a proven investment providing tangible benefits that exceed the cost of that investment. According to the 2006 Perry High Scope Study, "Each US dollar invested in early-childhood development yields a cumulative economic return to society of $17, a better return than any stock investment, with $12 benefiting the public.

Of the public return, 88 per cent came from crime savings, four per cent from education, seven per cent from increased taxes paid on higher earnings, and one per cent from welfare savings." Clearly, all of the PNP's 18 empowerment steps are impacted by an adequate investment in early childhood education.

The early-childhood sector needs just under $8 billion annually to cover infrastructure, teacher training and retention, materials and nutrition. Every single year, the sector remains underfunded receiving the least funding of any education level. Between the PNP's promises and the constitutional right to provide State funded pre-primary education, will the budget presented in May outline innovative financing models to fully fund the sector? We hope so.

The consolidated fund always has more demands on it than resources available. Everyone knows that to ensure something is paid for, a legislated dedicated fund is best. For example, the Road Maintenance Fund has money to maintain roads, because it is assured funding from the existing gas tax.

Dedicated funding

Also too, the CHASE Fund has successfully supported thousands of projects in culture, health, arts, sports, early-childhood education across Jamaica because it is assured funds from specific gaming taxes and fees.

The CHASE Fund allocates 25 per cent to early-childhood education which is necessary, but not sufficient. Where is our dedicated fund for children? We have a fund for roads, so why not for children? That is not a flippant inquiry. It was that exact question that an American paediatrician Dr Ray E. Helfer asked in the 1980's and his efforts led to the establishment of a Children's Trust Fund that legislatively provided for dedicated funding for interventions for child abuse and neglect.

Today, there are Children Trust Funds in 50 states. Funded by a variety of administrative fees, charges (eg marriage and lice-nse fees) and portion of taxes (eg share of property tax), these trust funds have provided a steady source of income (more than US$100 million annually) to fund critical interventions for children.

To be clear, these are not new taxes and fees; these are existing taxes and fees allocated to produce specific measurable social, economic and financial benefits. Importantly too, a stable flow of dedicated funds has enabled matching private-sector donations and partnerships to support and advance structured interventions.

Integrated solution

Structured intervention means that we prepare children properly for later education levels ensuring that we receive a greater return from expenditure then, and significantly reduce billions currently spent to fix education and crime problems created by neglect and a lack of investment. Dedicated funding would allow the early-childhood sector to systematically address deficiencies in a coordinated manner to move progressively towards improvement. As a simple example, consider that we will never achieve the Universal Literacy Target of 2015 if we keep allowing children to enter primary school without the literacy basics.

It is somewhat fitting that the PNP's first budget will be read in May. The month of May is all about empowerment, especially for children. Education Week and Read Across Jamaica Day both fall in May, which is celebrated as Child Month. Child Month is when we do more than talk about our children, we act. This year, the theme is 'Jamaica 50: Let's Celebrate Our Children'. What better way to celebrate Jamaica's children in our 50th year of Independence than to invest in the empowerment of our children, upon whose shoulders continued independence depends? If we are dedicated to empowerment, let us prove that by dedicating the funds necessary to achieve empowerment.

Deika Morrison is founder of Do Good Jamaica and managing director of Mdk Advisory and Consulting Ltd. Send feedback to deika@dogoodjamaica.org.