Senior lecturer, researcher, and coordinator of early childhood programmes at The University of the West Indies, Mona, Dr Zoyah Kinkead Clark is expressing concern for the welfare of young children, many of whom she says might be displaced come September, given the upheaval in a number of private early childhood institutions due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
“Teachers in early childhood institutions are really struggling. What we don’t understand is that in Jamaica, the majority of early childhood institutions are privately owned and prior to COVID-19 many of them were struggling, so you can well imagine that during COVID-19 and the transition out of COVID-19, if there is ever such time, it will be worst,” Dr Kinkead Clark told a digital forum hosted by the Caribbean Centre for Educational Planning last week.
She said anecdotal evidence is pointing to even more uncertainties for smaller children who have already had to deal with massive changes brought on by the pandemic.
“I have had the opportunity to speak with many administrators and teachers at these institutions, some teachers have already been laid off, some administrators have acknowledged they don’t know if they will be able to open back up when schools are to open in September, that’s a question mark and so when you look at all of this, the financial aspect of it is also something you will have to consider,” she pointed out.
Kinkead Clark said these institutions were further challenged in that they had not benefited from some of the initiatives that teachers in primary schools have been able to access.
“Early Childhood institutions do not benefit from those and so even the provision of tablets and other devices, early childhood teachers do not have access to those, many of them the salaries that they earn, they didn’t have the capacity and so even now teachers are left on their own; so many young children are really sitting at home not doing much,” she noted.
Meanwhile, she said there were further challenges for the group.
“When we talk about how COVID-19 affected the teaching and learning and management of schools for young children, we are really talking about how well are we prepared to deal with 21st century learners without 21st century capacities and capabilities. That is very important, because for young children who learn in unique ways, how are they able to navigate this new normal? Every facet of society has been affected and young children are particularly vulnerable and particularly sensitive to the smallest shifts and changes in their everyday lives, and while children are resilient, the challenges that have been wrought by the massive shifts have affected them in several ways,” she pointed out.
In noting that young children are usually put at the end rather than the beginning in terms of any kind of support, she said persons with older children would tend to place more attention on their education at this point, as it is thought that somehow the children who are at the early childhood stage have time to catch up.
“While we know that there will be some problems with teaching, a huge part of it has to do with the socio-emotional side of learning and how they are going to manage all of this. For young children, being uncertain of what is happening what is happening to their homes, their teachers, it really isn’t an easy thing for them to understand. We have to look at how prepared are their parents to support them at this point of time,” Kinkead Clark appealed adding, “It really is a challenging time for young children, they learn in very unique ways and technology is not always the best means through which to facilitate the unique ways in which they learn.”
The Jamaica Independent Schools’ Association (JISA), which represents over 150 private schools across the island, has been petitioning the Ministry of Education to offer financial assistance to its members since schools were first mandated closed in March as a means of limiting the spread of the novel coronavirus. The ministry has, however, indicated that it is unable to meet that request. According to JISA, a number of its members were facing certain closure with others barely able to maintain operations.
Overall, there are over 30,000 private educational institutions in the island, inclusive of early childhood entities.
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