Making Jamaica a country: Basic schools part of the long road

Thursday, June 14, 2018

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There are any number of Jamaicans, some of them well educated, whose first exposure to anything resembling formal education was a basic school under 'Miss Mirrie's' shade tree or 'Miss Sam's kindergarten' operating out of a back room.

As a country, we are emerging from an era when such rudimentary structures attended mostly by the children of the working people, were not frowned upon. Indeed, they came about because of lack of State sponsorship in early childhood education.

The State-run Early Childhood Commission (ECC) tells us that there is an estimated 2,667 early childhood institutions — a euphemism for basic schools — in Jamaica. Of that number, 2,414 are registered with the ECC.

But only 122 schools are certified, meaning that they would have met the required operating standards after being legally registered. About 253 schools are not registered, if we are to believe the commission's community relations manager, Ms Tanisha Miller, who spoke to the Jamaica Observer.

We in this space are not inclined to be too hard on the people who operate these unregistered or uncertified basic schools, given the social context out of which they evolved. The bald truth is that they were better than nothing.

But we would like to see the evolutionary process continue, taking into account the many critical issues now facing us as a developing country, and the certain perils of our underdevelopment.

There is enough empirical evidence and copious research data confirming the vital importance of quality early childhood education, and the conditions under which it is acquired, to convince us that it is a crucial part of the long journey ahead towards making a country out of Jamaica.

At the very least, the ECC's 12 operating standards must be met to cover essentials such as adequate staffing; interaction of staff with children; appropriate physical environment; developmental and educational programmes; health, indoor and outdoor equipment; safety; nutrition; child rights and child protection.

Surely, in these modern times, it can't be too much to ask that basic school teachers be qualified; that security and cleanliness of the school environment is top priority; that staff interacting with students are vetted to weed out undesireables; and that provisions are made to respond to natural and man-made hazards such as fires, floods, disease outbreaks, and the like.

We would like to know that teachers are involved in continuing education to ensure that children are getting access to new information and new ways of learning. Pedagogy, we all know, is not stagnant and there is a brave new world of technology out there.

Obviously, it's must be a process, because for many basic school teachers the issue of remuneration is one of severe embarrassment. A great deal of these schools cannot afford to pay even the minimum wage, yet their service is vital to the community. Without them, many mothers cannot go to work.

For the foreseeable future, agencies like the ECC will have a crucial role to assist in bringing these basic schools into the modern era. Any amount of resources allocated to them by a wise Government will be worth it.

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