The Advancement in Education Summit demonstrated that the Diaspora has taken a step in the right direction to becoming more knowledgeable about the strengths and challenges of Jamaica's education sector. This move also reflects a more purposeful and efficient effort to leverage Diaspora resources for stronger outcomes.
Specifically with regard to Early Childhood Development and Education, the Summit revealed chronic, complex issues within the sector including but not limited to:
Certification of Early Childhood Institutions with the Early Childhood Commission
To date, no early childhood institution has met the 12 Standards outlined by the ECC in order for them to receive a five year Certificate of Registration. This is after over 10 years since the Early Childhood Act of 2003 and 2400+ schools later.
Teacher qualifications and their ability to effectively deliver the curriculum.
Most teachers are not trained teachers (don't possess a first degree). Although teachers are required to certain to have certain minimum certification, not a first degree, the concern is that the curriculum was designed for trained teachers and those only with certifications may have great difficulty putting the curriculum into action
Parent involvement in terms of level and appropriateness.
Many schools seem to suffer from low parental involvement including as it relates to tuition payment. On the flip side, some parents are demanding an 'academic rich' schooling for their children, which had been shown to be counter-intuitive for children at the early childhood level. The idea of learning through play appears to be a turn off for many parents, particularly given a rich Jamaican tradition that emphasizes academics.
Interestingly, as the various teachers, principals, Board members and other stakeholders gave their input, they did not directly reference the issue of certification unless specifically asked. The responses reflected varying degrees of understanding of the certification process and the related ECC standards. That gave the impression that the sector as a whole either has not been very keenly focused on certification; the overall approach to certification lacks a very effective strategy; or a combination of both.
However, it seems to makes sense that at minimum a school should at least be deemed 'certified' or having met government standards before they can 'truly operate'. Incidentally, given that the standards may be quite high, should a school meet most or all of these standards, the school will arguably be a well rounded, quality institution.
Unfortunately the Early Childhood Commission was not in attendance at the summit, which left quite a few questions unanswered. The concern of certification and ECC's absence was brought to the attention of Education Minister Ronald Thwaites as well as his Permanent Secretary Elaine Foster-Hylton. Both alluded to the concerns that the standards are too high, at least given Jamaica's context. In addition, reassurances were made to connect the Diaspora strongly to the ECC.
Outstanding questions include but are not limited to:
- Considering that the standards may be too high, what review efforts are underway or will be taken, if any, to revise those standards to Jamaica's context? If no such effort will take place, how then the certification process will be impacted if most schools continue not to make the 'mark', even with extensive support?
- If there is a definite acknowledgement that the standards are too high, and they are to be reviewed, what's the time frame? And what then will happen to schools in the interim?
- If the sentiment is true that the curriculum was designed for trained teachers, what then will need to happen to untrained teachers who do not have the financial ability to continue their education and/or face other legitimate barriers? Does this affect certification and in what way? If many untrained teachers cannot process the curriculum as given, how then can the curriculum be presented in a readily digestible manner for conversion in the classroom? What's the percentage of teachers system-wide that have met the certification standards? Do all school have a trained teacher?
- What approach is now being considered to get schools certified given that none has been after 10 years?
- Which schools are being considered for conversion into infant schools/departments?
- Considering that student teacher ratio is a critical part of certification, and the ability to reduce student teacher ratio depends on continuous funding of personnel, what is the Ministry prepared to do to address this matter? What if a school's student to teacher ratio falls below the articulated standard, does that negatively impact certification?
- What sensitization process have and will take place around the ECC's twelve standards?
- Considering that many schools have been operating long before the standards, have there been consideration to 'grandfathering' relatively viable institutions if they meet most of the minimum standards?
At minimum, the Diaspora's recommendation to formulate a task force comprising of the various stakeholders is anticipated to decisively address the certification matter plus other areas of relevance.