TWO hundred and fifty-three early childhood institutions operating across the island are reportedly doing so illegally.
In fact, the Early Childhood Commission’s (ECC’s) Community Relations Manager Tanisha Miller has admitted that this number could be greater, as it is impossible to know definitively, because sometimes people transform homes into basic schools.
“Out of the 2,667 ECIs (Early Childhood Institutions) in Jamaica, we have 2,414 that are registered with the Early Childhood Commission, which means there are about 253 schools that are not registered. They have not applied for registration, which would mean that they are operating illegally,” she told the Jamaica Observer.
With regard to schools that are operating illegally, Miller assured the Observer that the ECC is working on educating them about registration.
Miller also disclosed that only 122 of the more than 2,500 institutions in the island are certified with the ECC. This, she said, is cause for concern in relation to students’ safety.
Miller explained that there is a difference between being registered and being certified. When a school is registered with the ECC, this means that it is operating legally, she said. Certification, on the other hand, is to ensure that the institutions meet the standards set by the ECC, after they are registered.
She said that there is no certification fee and the process is not difficult.
All the schools need to do, according to Miller, is meet the 12 operating standards. She said achieving the standards can be costly, but the commission is mandated to assist early childhood institutions, with cash and kind, to meet the requirements.
“The 12 operating standards we would have tried to distribute them to schools. We explain them to schools. The standards range from staffing to interaction with staff, with children, to physical environment, developmental and educational programmes, health, indoor and outdoor equipment, safety, nutrition, child rights, and child protection,” she told the Observer.
The main issue for schools, according Miller, is meeting standard two, which speaks to developmental and educational programmes.
“Sometimes you go into the schools [and] the teachers do not have an activity plan to show the development officers who are supposed to be there to be guiding the practitioners to say that ‘you’re on the right path’,” Miller shared.
“We require these activity plans from teachers to ensure that all schools are on the same level, because we focus on equity and equality right across the board. So we want to ensure that all our children are getting a standard level of education… so it doesn’t matter what community or the parish you’re from, the level of education is supposed to be the same,” she said.
Miller also pointed out that the schools sometimes do not have certified teachers — an area in which she said the ECC can do so much and no more.
“Are these teachers qualified enough to teach these children? If a school is short on teachers, of course, we can assist, but if there is a teacher that’s already in the system that needs to be qualified or upgraded, we would advise them,“ Miller said.
“CHASE (Culture, Health, Arts, Sports, and Education Fund) provides scholarship funds for persons to go back to school. A school can’t be certified if the teachers themselves can’t meet the required standards,” she explained. “We want to ensure that when a child is left in a place, the child is well catered to. Children are not supposed to be just watching television for them to be learning and developing.”
Schools that are certified usually have safe environs for the children to learn and play freely without parents having to worry, the ECC representative explained, adding that this could be facilitated by appropriate fencing, which would keep the children in and stray animals out.
The Observer visited Springvale Basic School in Yallahs, St Thomas, which is registered but not certified with the ECC.
Principal Rose Marie Wynter told the newspaper that the school needs urgent repair, which was evident throughout the small space where her 35 students are taught daily.
“When it rains, we have to have plastic and stuff. It’s not appropriate. We want our blocks to go up some more. Around the play area, our sickbay is around there — we just want ’round there to [be] secured properly. Instead of board, we want some blocks, and we need another toilet around there,” she told the Observer.
A section of the floor in the sickbay is sunken. The principal also lamented that the school’s wall is incomplete.
Recently, the school received funds from the Jamaica Ex-police Association Florida Chapter and the Jamaica Police Co-op Credit Union to repair the roof and purchase a water tank.
“I am going to use this money; I’m going to let it stretch and see what I can do. Every Labour Day we always get help. This Labour Day, I don’t know what happened, because I really and truly had plans to say this Labour Day we are going to see if we could get a toilet. We want to see if we can even get some tiles,” she said.
Though her Labour Day plans did not materialise, Wynter said she is determined to repair the school and meet the standards necessary to be certified by the ECC.