As the new school year gets under way, acting executive director of the Early Childhood Commission (ECC), Michelle Campbell, is encouraging practitioners in the sector not to turn away children from the institutions because of their inability to pay the fees.
Campbell, however, said parents should also play their part by doing their research in finding the schools that are within their financial reach and which they would be able to support over the long-term.
"We normally get complaints from parents but it is at the end of the year we tend to get those phone calls, where persons are without the funds to continue that last term of paying school fees," she told The Gleaner during a recent interview at the ECC's downtown Kingston offices.
"We encourage the schools not to turn away the children but instead work out a system or plan with the parents as to how those school fees can be paid. Because at the end of the day, it is the children who are being affected and that is the lasting image we don't want to leave, scars for a child," Campbell argued.
Richard Williams, manager of the Early Childhood Development Services, said as the schools struggle to collect the fees, the Ministry of Education in collaboration with the ministries of Labour and Social Security should find ways to address how the schools deal with the students who are on the Programme of Advancement Through Health and Education (PATH).
"There is a live concern, for example with the children who are from households that are on PATH and based on the pronouncements most times to say that students on PATH should not pay fees, some parents once they hear that, even if they have it where they could contribute probably not all of it, they refuse," he said.
Williams further argued: "But in early-childhood institutions it is a private operation and so it is the fees that actually pay the overhead cost and the salaries of the teachers. So as a country, we have to look at how we are going to support the parents of children who are on PATH and are attending early-childhood institutions."
In the meantime, the ECC issued a call for early-childhood institutions to adhere to the basic policies that govern the way in which they operate.
Campbell said the institutions' failure to meet the required standards is of concern to the entire early-childhood sector.
All 2,579 early-childhood institutions across the island failed to meet the required standards for registration. But Campbell said the ECC was working with the schools so that they could improve their standards.
"Currently, the institutions are being inspected and following that inspection, the reports are generated and then the development officer corps is responsible for reviewing those reports, meet with institutions and work with them to develop a development plan," said Campbell.