Early childhood schools admit failures in labour of love
Several administrators leading the more than 200 early childhood institutions (ECIs) in Portland, St Mary, and St Thomas that scored below 50 per cent in an industry review have blamed inadequate resources for the unfavourable ratings.
Nearly 80 per cent of the 280 ECIs in the three parishes, which constitute the Ministry of Education’s Region Two, received subpar scores for 12 key benchmarks set by the Early Childhood Commission (ECC).
At least two basic schools in Portland crippled by the coronavirus pandemic have seen dramatic reductions in their population, resulting in a slump in funding.
Principal of the Salvation Army Basic School, Eulalee Ferron, told The Gleaner Tuesday that the school’s population has dwindled from approximately 100 students to 44.
More than 80 per cent of ECIs across the island are privately operated and are resourced through fees and fundraising activities.
Ferron said the reduction in revenues has severely hampered school operations and may have resulted in the 29 per cent score from the ECC.
“Parents are finding it difficult to pay school fees, so most of the time the children are taken to an infant school, “she said.
Infant schools are operated by the Government and are, in most instances, free.
Ferron said the lack of resources means that funds cannot be channelled into outdoor activities, one of the 12 standards identified as critical for early childhood development by the ECC.
Basic outdoor play equipment, including a swing and seesaw, is absent as a result.
Sylvia Hamilton, principal of Nonsuch Basic School, which scored 31 per cent, disclosed that safety concerns formed part of the basis for the poor grade.
Inadequate play material and equipment were also weaknesses identified.
“The school also needs to be properly secured as the perimeter fencing has collapsed. There is also the problem of a leaking roof, especially in the bathroom and kitchen area at the school,“ she said.
St Mary-based Oracabessa New Testament Basic School saw its rating dive from above 50 per cent to 31 per cent.
Petunia Roberts-Brown, one of two teachers at there, told The Gleaner that her school fell short in areas relating to indoor and outdoor activities, furnishing, and supplies.
“Our outdoor equipment, for example, is not up to standard, so we would like sponsors to come and assist us,” Roberts-Brown said, adding that the school’s fire plan was not approved by the brigade because of a minor documentary error.
That means the school also failed to meet safety standards.
Natesha Green, principal of the Galina Basic School, which scored 24 per cent, said a missing playing field and inadequate fencing contributed to the poor grade.
Morant Bay Basic principal Sharon Hall, in a Gleaner interview on Tuesday, admitted that she was not surprised by the school’s standing.
“When I got to this school in September 2021, the situation was very bad. Everything was falling apart.
“It was just one big room, so I’ve since added partitions and have been trying to uplift it – renovate, paint, replace the old furniture, get new windows and door,” she said.
The principal disclosed that the small school, located on Rosemary Lane in Morant Bay, St Thomas, has three teachers, two assistants, and 45 students.
In addition to infrastructural challenges, Hall revealed that Morant Bay Basic School, which is now without electricity, has high outstanding utility balances.
Several challenges accounted for St Thomas Hill View Kinder Preparatory’s 31 per cent score, principal Kennesia McLean has said.
“The road to the school is in a deplorable condition, and we’ve sent several letters to the relevant authorities, but to no avail. We are also lacking in furniture. We have limited bathrooms and our building needs repairs,” she noted.
The headmistress said that the school has also had to deal with multiple break-ins.
“It (grade) could have been better, but this acts as a stepping stone for us now. We know where our weaknesses lie, so we can target same going forward.”