Photography by Craig Harley
Our October Cover Star, Trisha Williams-Singh, Chairman of the Early Childhood Commission, shares on the importance of early childhood education, the work of the commission, family, life and more….
PANACHE: What is the Early Childhood Commission (ECC)?
Trisha Williams-Singh (TWS): The Early Childhood Commission (ECC) is the regulatory body for the early childhood sector in Jamaica and was created by an Act of Parliament, the ECC Act 2003. The ECC is charged with the responsibility for coordinating all early childhood programmes and services within the early childhood sector. One of the ECC’s major functions is the regulation of all early childhood institutions (ECIs), to ensure the fulfilment of the health, safety and developmental needs of Jamaica’s children. The Commission, therefore, has responsibility for institutions with children within the 0 – 6 years age cohort, and for early childhood policy affecting children in the 6 – 8 age cohort.
PANACHE: What are the goals and objectives of the ECC?
TWS: The major goals and objectives of the ECC are to facilitate the development of (a) critically thinking, socially competent, healthy children ready for life, and (b) parents who are informed, educated, involved and supported in meeting children’s early development needs.
This is accomplished through the following legislated functions:
- Advise the Minister on policy matters relating to early childhood care, education and development in Jamaica, including initiatives and actions to achieve national early childhood development goals;
- Assist in the preparation of plans and programmes concerning early childhood development;
- Monitor and evaluate the implementation of the plans and programmes and make to the Minister such recommendations as it deems fit;
- Act as coordinating agency to ensure effective streamlining of all activities relating to early childhood development;
- Convene consultations with relevant stakeholders as appropriate;
- Analyse needs and submit recommendations for budgetary allocations for early childhood development;
- Identify alternative financing through negotiation with donor agencies and liaise with such agencies to ensure effective and efficient use of donor funds;
Supervise and regulate early childhood institutions.
In order to successfully achieve the above mandate, the ECC conducts research on early childhood development.
PANACHE: The Jamaica Observer published in February 2017 that the ECC was seeking to “to certify approximately 300 basic schools by 2019.” What is the latest update on that?
TWS: To date, there are 77 ECIs that have been certified and several others working toward achieving that status.
PANACHE: Why is it important for early childhood institutions to get certified?
TWS: Early Childhood is the most important period in a child’s life, as it’s the period of the most rapid brain development. It is therefore important to guarantee a solid foundation for each child in order to improve performance at the other levels in the education system and into adulthood.
It is therefore important for ECIs to be certified because certification is the standard that assures stakeholders of quality early childhood development. These stakeholders include parents, donors, GOJ and management committees as well as the wider society.
PANACHE: Tell us more about these operational standards that institutions need to adhere to?
The staff at early childhood institutions has the training, knowledge, skills and attitude to help children achieve their full potential.
Development and Educational Programmes
Early childhood institutions have comprehensive programmes designed to meet the language, physical, cognitive, creative, socio-emotional, spiritual, cultural and school readiness needs of children.
Interactions and Relationships with Children
Early childhood staff has the training, knowledge, skills and attitude to promote positive behaviours in children.
Early childhood institutions have physical environments that meet building, health and safety requirements, allow adequate space for children, and facilitate the development of children and staff.
Indoor and Outdoor Equipment
Early childhood institutions have indoor and outdoor equipment and furnishings that are safe, child-friendly and promote the optimal development of children.
Early childhood institutions have physical facilities, policies, programmes and procedures that promote healthy lifestyles, and protect children and staff from illnesses.
Early childhood institutions provide children in their care with nutritious meals and model good nutritional practices for children and families.
Early childhood institutions provide safe indoor and outdoor environments for children, staff, stakeholders and visitors to the institutions.
Child Rights, Child Protection and Equality
Early childhood institutions uphold the rights of children and protect them from harm and also ensure that all children have equal access to services.
Parent and Stakeholder Participation
The management and staff of early childhood institutions have good relationships with parents, caregivers, family members and the community.
Early childhood institutions have management structures that ensure good administration. There are plans, policies, procedures and programmes that ensure child, family and staff well-being.
Early childhood institutions have financial practices that adhere to standard accounting principles.
PANACHE: Once institutions are certified how do they manage to keep the certification?
TWS: Institutions are required to update legally required documents annually, such as police records, medicals and food handler’s permits. They are also inspected annually to ensure that the 12 Operating Standards are being maintained.
Through its Field Officers, the ECC provides continuous monitoring and specialized assistance to ECIs, assisting with identifying opportunities for donor involvement. The ECC also facilitates training workshops and assists early childhood practitioners in developing appropriate plans and programmes geared towards optimal outcomes for children.
PANACHE: What would you say has been the greatest achievement of the ECC to date?
TWS: The greatest achievement of the Early Childhood Commission has been to effectively create a more cohesive sector that is characterized by intense cross-sectoral collaboration, easily available data and increased efficiency through the increased use of ICT.
PANACHE: What major projects are you focused on for the remainder of the year?
TWS: The major projects for the remainder of the year encompass:
a. Certification Fair Region Four: This will allow practitioners to access the service providers they need, documentation and resources in order to be certified. Then to identify funding to create a “Certification Bus” to be able to facilitate the sharing of information regarding the different aspects of ECD.
b. School Leaders Development Seminars: To strengthen school leadership and to build capacity within ECIs across the six regions.
c. Execution of the second stage of the Jamaica School Readiness Assessment, the Ages and Stages Questionnaire – Jamaica (ASQ-J). This is the second level screening for four-year-old children that have been assessed by their teachers as needing further intervention. The first stage was completed in June 2017.
d. Greater emphasis on the first 1000 days of a child’s life. Development and implementation of a public education campaign geared towards educating all stakeholders, primarily parents, on the importance of this critical stage of child development.
e. The creation of more Infant Schools and Infant Departments to ensure greater access to high-quality early childhood programmes and services.
PANACHE: Where do you see the ECC in 10 years?
TWS: Within ten years the ECC will be coordinating a fully transformed early childhood sector characterized by stronger government ownership and support as well as less variation in the quality of the programs and services being offered across the island. Additionally, at least fifty percent of the ECIs operating have a Certificate of Registration and the remainder possessing Permits to Operate.
PANACHE: How can people donate and/or support the ECC?
TWS: Donations can be made through the ECC or to the National Education Trust (NET). For persons who may wish to donate directly to an ECI, contact can be made with the ECC to request the latest inspection in order to ascertain the exact needs of the institution. Therefore, ensuring the best use of resources.
PANACHE: Where does your passion for youth and education come from?
TWS: My passion is driven by wanting to see a better Jamaica and this I truly believe can only happen through education. The change that Jamaica requires needs to be driven by youth. I love Jamaica, I’m extremely proud to be Jamaican and want to give back to my country that has done so much for me.
PANACHE: What does family mean to you?
TWS: Family means a lot to me. I strongly believe in a solid foundation for any structure and that’s what my family is for me. My family is my go-to for everything and I mean everything.
PANACHE: What life lessons would you like your children to hold on to forever?
TWS: Simple, I want them to be honourable citizens of whatever country they chose to call home and always give back.
PANACHE: What’s your favourite thing to eat?
TWS: Ackee and Saltfish 🙂 I can have that anytime of the day and will eat it every day.
PANACHE: Where’s is your favourite place to take family and friends?
TWS: Villa Point of View – Portland, Jamaica. I find Portland to be the most relaxing parish for me as I love the beauty of the contrast between the Caribbean Sea and the island’s mountains.
PANACHE: How do achieve work-life balance?
TWS: I have a simple routine in which family time is number one. I also live by the motto “less is best.” I am driven by results which makes doing both easier.
PANACHE: What quotes do you live by?
TWS: “Do unto others as you would like done unto you.”
PANACHE: If you could meet three people (dead or alive) who would they be and WHY?
- Marcus Garvey – he epitomized a belief of mine instilled in me by family – “If you have no confidence in self, you are twice defeated in the race of life.”
- Rosa Parkes – She demonstrated the courage and strength to effect change and that is something I find very inspiring and powerful.
- Bill Gates – His innovation and hard work has made him the billionaire he is today and his philanthropic work is truly aligned with my passion for education. So having coffee with him would be an honour.
PANACHE: Any final words?
TWS: Our beautiful country Jamaica needs us all; her true potential can only be realized by a fully educated society. So I use my last words to plead that we do not politicize education. Education is a right for all our children.|P