Trisha Williams-Singh | Purposeful in pursuit of excellence - ECC committed to quality development of Jamaica's children
Last year, the Early Childhood Commission (ECC) embarked on a thrust to implement creative, cost-effective solutions.
The measures were geared at maximising efficiency, productivity, and forging stronger partnerships.
Implementation of these initiatives has had an impact on the organisation by reducing operational costs, creating more resource-rich environments within which our children can better learn, ensuring a cadre of more qualified and informed practitioners, as well as attracting increased funding and partnerships.
Based on these objectives, the activities of the ECC have intensified over the last year. With the formulation of a new board of commissioners, the ECC began a rebranding strategy and intensified the focus on issuance of certificates of registration and the creation of infant schools and departments. Just over 210 infant schools/departments have been created, with 26 created for the 2017-2018 academic year.
Registration and certification
There are 2,703 early childhood institutions (ECIs) operating, in Jamaica, with 12 per cent, or 335, ECIs owned by the Jamaican Government. The remaining 88 per cent, or 2,368 ECIs, are community basic schools or privately owned.
The community basic schools, while not owned by the Government, benefit from assistance through practitioner salary subsidy and nutrition and material grants. To date, only 2,420 have applied for a certificate of registration with the commission.
Of that amount, 1,873 have received a permit to operate, while 100 have met the performance criteria under the 12 operating standards and received a certificate of registration. The current focus of the ECC is to increase the number of ECIs that are meeting the standards to a minimum of 300 by 2019.
With the increased thrust towards assisting ECIs to attain certification status, the ECC closely monitors the number of ECIs implementing their school development-improvement plans. This is done through the use of the classroom observation tool (COT).
COT is an automated system designed to record best practices and child outcomes in an early childhood classroom setting for children ages three to five. Each observation lasts for one hour. The tool comprises 20 indicators and four dimensions (learning environment, classroom management, assessment, and evaluation and planning).
The learning environment in the classroom should be welcoming to children, provide enough age, appropriate materials for daily use, and provide flexibility of materials to be used across learning centres.
Other strategies implemented during the period were:
The successful execution of six regional certification fairs;
The launch in September of ECC "Pon Di Cawna" and Read Across the Region.
These initiatives were geared improving the home-school relationship, to have a positive impact on child outcomes and ensure that our children are prepared for life.
Additionally, the ECC provides continued parenting education and support service, through the Community Relations Unit. The commission also saw the need to further increase public awareness of ECDs through the continued implementation of its communication strategy.
Training and Development
Significant progress has been made in the area of teacher training within the early childhood sector. Over 35 per cent of early childhood practitioners are trained at HEART Trust Level Three and above. The commission also organised training in other areas. More than 2,000 practitioners were trained in specific areas of universal precaution, The Child Care and Protection Act, Public Health Act, Paediatric First Aid, Child Abuse, financial management and corporate governance.
This is affecting our ECIs through capacity building within early childhood development settings and preparing our practitioners for the changing needs within the sector.
Remaining true to our cross-sectoral approach to early childhood development and to further assist with ECI certification, the ECC started a drive to create a more aware and involved stakeholder base.
The commission concentrated on strengthening existing partnerships while creating new ones. Over the period, from approximately 50 partners, the ECC received cash and in-kind donations of J$100 million aimed at assisting ECIs to be certified while creating the appropriate learning environments for children.
Partners such as the Digicel Foundation, which is assisting five ECIs to meet the standards in order to get certified; the Sagicor Foundation, which has adopted three ECIs through its Adopt-A-School initiative; and the One Jamaica Foundation, which has committed to helping five ECIs in Portland.
Other partners include the Union of Jamaican Alumni Associations Inc, the Barita Foundation, and a number of church and community organisations that have come on board. The ECC also strengthened existing partnerships with the CHASE Fund, the Jamaica Social Investment Fund, and UNICEF.
Besides these partnerships, the ECC has sought to increase advocacy on behalf of ECIs and the children of Jamaica. A new web page dubbed 'Support an ECI' was created for stakeholders locally and internationally to support an ECI's targeted needs, and in particular, those ECIs on the path to certification. This is a crowd funding initiative to financially support projects for the schools on a short-term basis.
Another level of partnership was recently forged with the JN Foundation, through the JN's iSupport Campaign, creating funding opportunities for ECIs.
The ECC continues to evolve to meet the changing needs of the sector amid the challenges. One such challenge is having qualified practitioners within the sector.
Added to our efforts to build capacity within our ECIs, the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information, in collaboration with the ECC, provided an opportunity under the Housing, Opportunity, Production and Employment (HOPE) Programme for the temporary employment of trained teachers in the post of teaching assistants (TAs).
To date, 209 TAs have been engaged under the programme, and the ECC continues to work on an individual basis with practitioners.
As we continue to be purposeful in our efforts, we realise that there is still much to be done. We are, therefore, seeking additional partners to assist in providing safe learning spaces, adequate buildings, teaching-learning resources, and supporting community initiatives to ensure that the children of Jamaica have the right start in becoming lifelong learners.
- Trisha Williams-Singh is the head of the board of directors of the Early Childhood Commission. Feedback firstname.lastname@example.org