Jacobs: Country not prepared for early childhood education

POSTED: 06/10/13 12:57 PM

St. Maarten – Although Unicef-Netherlands has recommended that St. Maarten increase its availability of child care centers, government does not have the financial resources nor legislation in place, to even implement such centers at this time, Education and Youth Minister Silveria Jacobs has said. The recommendation comes as part of the findings of the Unicef-Netherlands on the state of children and adolescents in the Dutch Caribbean. 15 children were interviewed locally and the internationally organization said that while St. Maarten has made several positive advancements, more can still be done.

Minister Jacobs agrees but points out that her ministry’s position on early childhood education is as a result of several bottlenecks.

“It is not in our laws that for early childcare that government must secure or take care of financing. If that was the case it would move much faster. However subsidies can be requested to minimize costs to parents and it is not on the budget for this year specifically, of course incidental subsidies can be granted here and there. But structurally there is nothing on the budget for 2013 as it pertains to early childhood care. So that is an area that we would have to start from scratch by establishing the laws that are necessary and then providing the subsidies for the institutions that carry it out.”

Unicef has recommended that St. Maarten “increase the supply of high quality, subsidized childcare centers to relieve the burden on working parents, especially mothers.” The Sifma Foundation has been one of the front runners in professionalizing child care centers and providing training for teachers and leaders, the minister added. However early childhood education is an expensive undertaking globally, she opined.

“In Europe there are hundreds of Euros paid per month for children between the ages of 2 and 4 years old. So it’s a very expensive undertaking and some places realize that Head Start programs give especially children in deprived areas a much needed boost. Those programs were implemented for children in the US who start school at 5 but we start a year earlier at 4. So if we would have to implement it for 3 year olds certain laws would have to be changed and the necessary budget amendments would have to be made. But no for 2013 that is not the case.”

The minister said that the new Belvedere School was constructed with an early stimulation center in mind. However, the school will now be designated for special needs students, especially since Unicef-Netherlands also recommended that St. Maarten provide more special needs institutions. The new school is expected be completed and handed over by January. In the meantime, the ministry is working on an intake policy for the institution and a testing system for students.

“In switching up and changing the type of school, we don’t usually identify special needs children from that age so we are still looking into the possibility of using that space in a way that the space is provided by government and ways of financing early childhood care.

She said that the decision was taken to shift the focus of the school because of “the outcry of the community” for institutions to be established that would be willing to deal with real cases and supervise students that have become unmanageable.

Most of these “unruly” students she explained have social issues which hamper their ability to learn. A few also show signs of autism but have not been diagnosed.

“We do not want that school to become a dumping ground for other schools to just to get rid of their problems. Foundation Based Education is designed to meet the needs of most levels and it’s only when it goes really below or requires a child in a smaller setting etc. that we are looking at keeping the class sizes small and have the persons who are equipped to deal with the child at that time,” the minister indicated.

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