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Issues Affecting Early Childhood Education in Jamaica

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“Early Childhood Education is the key to the betterment of society” – Maria Montessori. Under the early childhood act (2005) an Early Childhood Institution (ECI) is defined as any place that cares for four or more children, under the age of 6, for up to 6 hours a day. This essay will look at five issues affecting early childhood education in Jamaica and what transformational strategies implemented by other countries that could combat these issues.

The four notable persons and organization that can be considered the “vanguards” of early childhood education in Jamaica are Rev. Madge Saunders, Rev. Henry Ward, Mr. Dudley Ransfor Grant (The grandfather of basic schools) and The Van Leer Foundation.

In recent times, the Early Childhood Commission (ECC), which is an agency of the Ministry of Education established the early childhood commission act (2003). It was done to align the strategic goal of the government of Jamaica to improve the quality of early childhood education and development within the sector. To guide compliance with the act and regulations, the ECC developed a detailed document called “Standards for the Operation, Management, and Administration of Early Childhood Institutions”.

However, to date, there are still several issues that plague the early childhood education sector. This essay will focus on the following five issues:

  1. Nutrition
  2. Finance
  3. Quality of teachers
  4. Quality of the school
  5. Parental Practices.


In Jamaica, vast numbers of school-age children face major nutrition and health problems that adversely limit their ability to take advantage of educational opportunities available to them. Access to food continues to be critical, with 19 percent of the population living below the poverty line and in rural communities with limited infrastructure and poor water supply, which contributes to poor nutritional status.

Many children have a history of malnutrition and nutritional deficiencies exacerbated by parasitic infection, which is highly prevalent among school-age children. It has been demonstrated that when children are given a meal at school, they are better able to reap the benefits of classroom instruction. Providing breakfast to mildly undernourished students at school improves verbal fluency, speed, and memory in cognitive tests.

School feeding looks simple but is a complex intervention requiring trade-offs during the design of program objectives, targets, and modalities for feeding, as well as costs. Jamaica could learn from countries that have successfully implemented school feeding programs that involves the use of local agriculture while providing employment to local communities by employing members of the communities to work in the school kitchens.

For reference, Botswana has successfully implemented its National School Feeding Programme continuously for 45 years. Evidence from stakeholders indicates that the country has witnessed growth in enrolments and school attendance rates that are highly associated with the availability of food at school. The government maintains a predominantly centralized school feeding program model with procurement being handled at the national level. Over the years, the government has tried to include procurement both at the district and community levels, illustrating Botswana’s efforts to procure as locally as possible. The majority of food commodities are produced nationally, such as beef, sorghum, sunflower and some of the beans and maize and therefore, benefit local/national agriculture. The National School Feeding Programme has been used to help create employment at the community level by paying for cooks and for hand stampers.


Benefits of investing in pre-primary education are found to be the greatest for the most disadvantaged, who are often the least prepared when starting primary school and are therefore most likely to be left behind (UNESCO, 2015). One study estimates that the return to investing $1 in early childhood care and education (ECCE) for the most disadvantaged children can be as high as $17. Investment in earlier years is also crucial for meeting the SDGs beyond SDG 4. These include improved workforce productivity thereby helping improve economic growth and better health outcomes. Without investment in quality ECCE programs, existing social and economic disparities will continue to widen meaning many of the SDG targets are at risk of not being met.

Early childhood education has had its peak allocation of a meagre five percent of the national budget. The budget as a major policy and planning tool is the place reserved to give substance to policy priorities and direction. An examination of the budgets of the national government and the local authorities would not fail to reveal that early childhood education is not a genuine priority despite policy statements to the contrary.

However, Norway has allocated more than the average 5% of GDP to education and has been reaping bountiful rewards from doing so. In Norway, expenditure on educational institutions at all levels was 7.6% of the GDP in 2010. Pre-primary and school education is funded by county and municipal budgets, composed of local tax revenues and central state transfers. Funding for early childhood education and care and for primary and lower secondary education is channelled through a block grant to municipalities. The block grant is based on the size of the population and other factors such as socio-economic background. This grant covers a range of services, including health and social services, and municipalities are free to determine the proportion spent on education.

Quality of Teachers

Only 32 per cent of teachers operating in Jamaica’s basic schools, nurseries, infant schools and other ECIs satisfy the minimum required qualification of a diploma from a teacher-training institution. According to the data prepared by the Early Childhood Commission (ECC), just over 3,400 of the 10,000 teachers at locally ECIs are trained to the vocational level while a further 3,375 are educated to the secondary level or below. The shortage of trained teachers continues to hurt local early childhood institutions (ECIs).

A method of ensuring that teachers who are already in the system get the training they need to get up to standard is through the use of Information and Communication technology (ICT) to provide access to content, professional development and professional learning communities. Technology, if part of an overall system focused on instructional improvement, can help reduce costs, increase impact, and offer information/skill development in previously unavailable forms. To support the wise application of ICT three priority actions are proposed:

  1. Offer audio learning to support teacher development in and with particularly difficult-to reach areas and populations,
  2. Promote the use of video for teacher self-study and to share models of intended practice;
  3. Provide teachers with access to teaching and learning resources through open content and help them integrate this content into their instruction.

Quality of ECI’s

Over 80 percent (80%) of preschoolers enrolled attend community operated basic schools and just under 20% are in Public Infant Deparments and private centers wich benefit from government subsidies for teachers salaries, class materials and schools meals. Failure to provide quality early childhood education limits children’s futures by denying them opportunities to reach their full potential. It also limits the futures of countries, robbing them of the human capital needed to reduce inequalities and promote peaceful, prosperous societies. Access to early childhood education has been slow and inequitable, both across and within countries. Worldwide, vulnerable children are disproportionately excluded from quality pre-primary education even though it can have the greatest impact on them.

To ensure no child is left behind, Governments should adopt policies that commit to universal pre-primary education and prioritize the poorest and hardest-to-reach children at the start of the road to universality, not the end. How can this be achieved? Dedicated and increased domestic finance, with Governments allocating at least 10% of national education budgets to pre-primary education. Commitment to robust quality standards that underpin Government expansion plans and a common vision among Governments, donors and partners to make funding and technical assistance available where and when it is most needed.

Parenting practices

Parenting practices are often detrimental to children’s early development. A 2005 study by the Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ) revealed that only one third of parents told stories, played games or sang songs to their children. Physical punishment begins early in a child’s life: the 2005 MICS indicated that eighty-seven per cent of children aged 2-14 are subjected to at least one form of psychological or physical punishment.

Researchers at the University of Oxford found that children whose parents participated in the Peers Early Education Partnership (a program geared towards supporting families of children ages 0-5) ‘made significantly greater progress in their learning than children whose parents did not participate.’ These strides where found in children ages 3-5, and included progress in vocabulary, language comprehension, understanding of books and print and number concepts. In addition, these children also exhibited higher self-esteem in comparison to children of non-participating parents.

To get parents involved in their child’s learning invest in providing parents the opportunities and resources for parental involvement and incentivize parents to spend the necessary educational time with their children. Provide workshop for parents to educate them on the benefits of playing an active role in their childrens’ education.

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