Deika Morrison, Contributor
It was truly a lovely day at Parliament! Starting on time, presenters shared data and their perspectives uninterruptedly, one after another, speaking within their strictly enforced allotted time slots. There was no arguing or heated debate in raised voices. Presenters and participants alike were respectful of each other's views, even as they disagreed. And no, this isn't Parliament on Duke Street at Gordon House. This is the Inaugural Early Childhood Parliament held by Shortwood Teachers' College and Shortwood Foundation on May 10, 2012.
You read right, the teachers had their own parliament about early-childhood education.
It is actually a very fitting word - parliament. The word parliament is defined as "a meeting or assembly for conference on public or national affairs". For sure, early-childhood education is a public and national affair - and a critically important one at that. The research is clear that early-childhood education is the best investment a society can make - not just for the children but also for society. Shortwood Teachers' College and the Shortwood Foundation provided, in their words, "a forum for collaboration" and invited key stakeholders to share information about the early-childhood education sector in order to develop solutions.
The invitation was clear that this was not just meant to be talk. And in every detail of this parliament, that objective was reflected.
First, if we are going to collaborate, we need to know the facts. So, the morning started with presentations that covered a range of topics by people qualified to speak on the issues - Curriculum Implementation and Delivery, Monitoring & Supervision of Early Childhood Institutions, Teacher Quality: Training and Certification, Parenting Education and Coordination of the Sector.
Presentations were made by representatives of the government entity mandated to monitor and regulate the early-childhood sector - the Early Childhood Commission (ECC) - experts in training and certification, and experienced professionals in parenting and coordination. Every session was extremely informative. We learned more about what the regulators do, the real challenges faced with having untrained teachers in the sector, the critical importance of parenting and that partnerships have been critical in the development of the early-childhood sector, for example.
Second, if we are going to collaborate, it helps if a broad range of stakeholders are included in the deliberations. And so, in addition to the experts, other stakeholders were invited to share their experiences about their initiatives. None of these were government initiatives - one was from the private sector, one was a community-based project and one was led by a non-governmental organisation - Barita Education Foundation, the BASICS Initiative of South St Andrew, and Crayons Count, respectively. We were provided an opportunity to share what we do and we were all very warmly received. In fact, after the presentations, the principal of Shortwood Teachers' College, Elaine Foster-Allen, expressed her support for these initiatives and had an impromptu collection for Crayons Count - to contribute to providing learning kits for the early-childhood institutions covered by all projects - where some $17,600 was collected right there from participants. That is definitely not talk; that is action!
Third, if we are going to collaborate, we have to have some frank discussions about the problems and really try to find solutions. And so, the closing session was breakout groups of participants who chose which above named topic they wished to discuss further. Given specific directions to name challenges and solutions, the discussions were very focused. For example, in the Coordination of the Sector Group, we discussed the challenges people face in finding information about the sector (problem) and suggested a central public and online place for people to find out who - private sector, public sector and NGOs - is doing what in the sector, as well as an inventory of needs by schools (suggested solution).
What were some major takeaways from this parliament? Anyone would say: a better understanding of how the ECC operates and problems in the sector, solutions that were definitely food for thought, clarity that partnerships are critical to the development of the sector as is effective communication to develop those partnerships.
But that is not all. There is one more thing that is absolutely critical: there was a lot of genuine care for children expressed throughout the day. For example, in mostly measured presentations, whenever someone spoke with passion, the passion was for the children and for us all to do better for them. The little details like the music also revealed the care as between every presentation, classic preschool songs like Good Morning and Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes, which participants sang along with, ensured that we all remained focused on the matter at hand - the children. And, of course, the impromptu collection for Crayons Count right there just proved that they are ready to act, and ready to act now.
Shortwood Teachers' College and Shortwood Foundation are to be commended for convening this parliament. We know that we desperately need change in the early-childhood sector, and it is most encouraging that these teachers have taken this kind of initiative to drive that change. They want action and collaboration. Are you ready to act and collaborate?
The research is clear that early-childhood education is the best investment a society can make - not just for the children but also for society. Shortwood Teachers' College and the Shortwood Foundation provided, in their words, "a forum for collaboration" and invited key stakeholders to share information about the early-childhood education sector in order to develop solutions.