Along with the Olympic records set by Usain Bolt and the successes of Jamaica’s musical geniuses, the country has a record which no other country in the region has yet to beat: practically all pre-school aged children are enrolled in pre-school.
Ninety-nine percent of children under age six are enrolled in “basic” schools, for which reason Jamaica has the highest percentage of pre-school enrolment in Latin America, considerably above the regional average of 73%.
This is a major achievement and a source of national pride, but experts say the challenge now is to transform this accomplishment into a better future for the country’s youngest citizens.
With the high incidence of youth unemployment, crime, violence, adolescent pregnancy and HIV/AIDS, in addition to stagnating economic growth, Caribbean youth face risks for their future in all stages of youth.
Education continues to play an enormous role in preparing young people for life and giving them the skills they need to move forward. There is solid evidence from studies conducted in Jamaica and other countries of the region that the first 1,000 days of a person’s life are crucial for developing the skills essential for a better life.
Jamaica has accumulated solid quantitative evidence demonstrating that the focus should be on the first years of life, not only in education, but also in other areas.
The National Child Development Strategy is the first of its type in the region. In contrast to other projects, which emphasize only one aspect of development – nutrition, education or health – the Jamaican strategy is comprehensive and follows the progress of children from the first pre-natal consultation until they enter primary school.
To create the best possible environment for children, parents must also be involved in their education, such as occurs at St. Martin de Porres pre-school in Gordon Town on the outskirts of Kingston.
“I’m the delegate of his class,” says Nasreen Dunchie, whose son attends the school. “I come a few days a week to help the teacher and support [my son] any way I can.”
The initiative has been successful thanks to this monitoring at home. Sharing best practices to stimulate children’s development with all new parents helps to close the development gap before these children enter the school system.
“Most of the students are successful,” says Joe Perrera, a member of the school council. “When they reach sixth grade, they perform better in school than students from other schools because the advantages they have from the start continue throughout primary school,” he explains.