Nadisha Hunter, Staff Reporter
With the critical shortage of teachers in the early-childhood education sector grossly affecting operations, more persons are showing interest in the field.
Dr Rose Davies, senior lecturer in the School of Education at the University of the West Indies, Mona, says current figures are significantly higher that the number of persons the institutions graduated in the past.
"More colleges have been offering training. They are having both day and evening programmes, so the numbers have definitely been increasing," Davies said.
"More teachers are being trained in the programme but where they go to after they are trained is it. Most of them, because of the compensation, they tend to go to the public schools because of their terms and conditions of work," she said.
Some 250 persons have been graduating annually from five colleges supervised by the Joint Board of Teacher Education, up from just over 50 in previous years.
These five colleges are Church, Sam Sharpe, Shortwood, St Joseph's and International University of the Caribbean.
Even with the increase, Davies said more focus must be placed on training so that the students can benefit from quality education.
"We have to look to improve the quality of the teachers, of the experiences that the children have, and we actually really do need people with a certain level of qualification to take that to the level that it should go," she said.
"We have to find the money to invest in the system to provide more qualified teachers because at least you will be assured that when the children move on to primary schools, they have got that foundation that they should get," she added.
At least one early-childhood institution continues to evaluate and upgrade its programme while it trains more persons in the field.
Head of the Department of Early Education at The Mico University College, Sharon Mitchell-Reid, said the oldest teacher training institution in the Western Hemisphere is seeing more persons showing interest in the programme.
She said some 375 students are now enrolled in early-childhood education which is a marked improvement.
"Our intake last year for persons opting to do the bachelor's in early-childhood education increased and we are about to graduate our first cohort of persons who are engaged in the … programme come December.
"High levels of teacher training improve children's overall performance in school. Early-childhood staff with more training engage in a warmer and more responsive interaction with children, leading to improved child outcomes," she added.
Mitchell-Reid said more training increased the likelihood that staff would be less authoritarian, there would be less punishment, and that they would be more sensitive and more able to demonstrate positive interactive styles.
She further added that when training is coupled with on-the-job support, such as mentoring, there are significant improvements in children's outcomes.
Mitchell-Reid said based on the importance of early-childhood education and the interest of the Mico University president, Dr Claude Packer, the programme at The Mico is continuously evaluated and improved.
"We do constant evaluation every single year and we rewrite some of our programmes to meet the demands of our chief stakeholders who are the parents, students and teachers. We want to see the things that we are doing right, the things that we are doing wrong and areas for improvement," she explained.
"On our recent evaluation of the programme, we found out that the students should do a course in public speaking and we have also put in an administrative course because it is not only teaching, but the day-to-day effective running of the institutions, so we want to send out a new breed of early-childhood teachers to implement the programme effectively," she said.
Persons wishing to pursue a career in the field must have a minimum of five subjects in Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate.
Mitchell-Reid said, however, that persons who have inadequate qualifications are placed in a special programme which lasts for two years before they join the formal programme.
She argued that with the number of persons now showing interest and the continuous evaluation of the programmes, she is hoping the early-childhood sector will improve significantly.