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The Gleaner's honour awards - Adding colour to early childhood education

Published:Friday | January 17, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Students of Shortwood Practising Infant, Primary and Junior High School make their way into the Crayons Count Learning Lorry.
Deika Morrison (left) with then United States Ambassador to Jamaica, Pamela Bridgewater, at an early-childhood education workshop at The Jamaica Pegasus hotel in New Kingston last year.
Deika Morrison, creator of Crayons Count.

Daviot Kelly, Staff Reporter

Despite not having a background in early-childhood education, Deika Morrison, creator of Crayons Count, will receive the 2013 Gleaner Honour Award for Education, particularly for the charity's work in "raising awareness of and funds for provision of critical learning resources to early-childhood institutions (ECIs) across Jamaica".

The erudite Morrison noted that research proves investing in early childhood education is the best investment in a child's life.

"Each US$1 invested in early-childhood development yields a cumulative economic return to society of US$17, a better return than any stock investment, with US$12 directly benefiting the public," she said, quoting a 2006 Perry High Scope Study. Morrison said a solid start at the early-childhood level puts a child in the best position to manage and excel at the higher levels.

"Many problems in the education sector now stem from the poor foundation children receive and so they enter primary school unprepared for what they are expected to learn, and always have to try to play catch up," she said.

Her foray into helping children started with a book drive she led with her Rotary club in 2010 where Jamaica broke the Guinness World Record for collecting the most books in a week. The record was 242,624 and Jamaica smashed it by day one and ended up with a total of 657,061 books.

creation of DoGood Jamaica

That one-off event led to the creation of DoGood Jamaica - "a virtual home for all people and organisations doing good things".

It was while writing a children's book she realised the paucity of material for the early-childhood sector and that led to the Crayons Count project. It started with two main goals - advocacy for early-childhood education and teacher training. National Bakery and The Gleaner Company were quickly on board, providing support whether in advertising, providing school supplies or publishing early-childhood material. Crayons Count equips 2,700 ECIs, and each school gets at least one Crayons Count box, depending on enrolment. The Early Childhood Commission, with which all schools must be registered to qualify for assistance, designed the kit for 60 students. Each kit contains non-toxic, age-appropriate, brand new, brand name material, including 240 crayons, two sets of blocks (shapes and ABC/123), books, puppets, Play Doh, paper, manipulatives (including pegs and pegboard sets) kids paint, paintbrushes, glue sticks, and scissors.

"In year two, an average school got more than this, based on year one feedback," she explained. "All items are for specific developmental and educational purposes."

A former government senator and state minister for finance, Morrison said there was no temptation to return to politics. Perhaps as a foreshadowing of her current role, she said her most memorable time in office was working on the child protection legislation. While admitting no piece of legislation is perfect, she is adamant lawmakers crafted the best bill they could. She conceded one can make a change within the political system, but "the system is so structured, that I am able to do more for the things that I want to do more for, as a charitable organisation".

To ramp up the programme and introduce a third component, teacher training, the Learning Lorry was created last year. The retrofitted truck contains state-of-the-art media, an electronic whiteboard, and all the supplies an ECI teacher would need. The lorry, sponsored by National Bakery (which also provides the greater part of the school supplies), was launched in September. Morrison said, through the lorry, training is conducted for between 60 and 72 teachers a week. It goes out three days a week (Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays) for two sessions a day.

"We're going systematically around the island," she said. "We start in Kingston and St Andrew and St Catherine because of the population density. We can hit more students and more teachers faster." Crayons Count has aided over 1,000 ECI educators since the teacher-training component was unveiled.

more sponsorship from national

Crayons Count marks its calendar in tandem with the school year. So for the 2014/2015 year, Morrison said they were expecting a new round of material, mostly sponsored by National Bakery.

"There are some ideas on the table in terms of expanding and building on the teacher training, but we are being very careful," she said. "We're not into big announcements that are not effective. Everything that we've been doing so far, thank goodness, has been effective." Plans may involve getting another lorry for western Jamaica, but whatever it is, Morrison said the decisions would not be rushed.

"In the same way we involved in the second year based on the feedback of the first year, the third year will evolve from the feedback of this year," she said. "I can tell you right now, the teachers are asking for more training." Always the meticulous one, Morrison said they would not be moving on to level two and three until all teachers in the institutions they work with have mastered level one.

Morrison said she was "absolutely overwhelmed" about the award and thanked all Crayons Count's partners, especially The Gleaner and National Bakery, and all the individuals and volunteers who make it possible. But she insisted it was all about the children.

"The first thing that I said is that I am so glad for the 'big up' for the kids," she said. "Because everybody is doing this for the kids."