A workshop geared at understanding, addressing and improving various aspects when it comes to early childhood development (ECD) took place today at the Radisson Fort George Hotel in Belize City. The all-day event, hosted by UNICEF had the participation of several ministries, namely, the Ministry of Human Development, Social Transformation and Poverty Alleviation as well as the Ministry of Health and that of Education. According to Education Minister, Patrick Faber, there is a misconception that early childhood development begins at preschool while that is not the case. He added that there is the need for parents to do more to contribute to an improved early childhood development.
“I think there is a lot of room for public education here in Belize as it relates to ECD indeed. We still have a good many parents I believe in our country who don’t see a value in early childhood education and for most Belizeans that means preschool at 3 to maybe infant one to infant two but as the studies are showing, early childhood development and you notice we didn’t say early childhood education it needs to start from birth. The experts will all tell you as they are here telling us today that really we need to start nurturing our children from birth, giving them the proper health and nutritional care but also stimulating all around from in the home but also in the early years of their education. So yes a lot of sensitization needs to happen, yes more parents and more teachers need to get on board and yes by extension all in our society need to be more involved and need to be more sold on the idea of engaging in early childhood development from birth.
During this morning’s event, there was a keynote presentation done by the Professor of Child Health, Child Development and Behaviour from the University of the West Indies, Dr Maureen Samms-Vaughan. Part of her power point presentation looked at the impacts of a low to regular quality ECD versus high quality. The impacts included issues revolving financial, health and social aspects among others.
“We’ve learnt that the early years of life are important because the interactions and the experiences that a young child has with his or her environment determines the structure of the brain. Early experiences determine whether the child has a strong or fragile foundation to go into adulthood. There was a study done in Sweden where they looked at early childhood and adult health and they found that the number of adverse early childhood circumstances that people experience was related to the risk of having health problems increase with the number of adverse conditions that children had in early childhood; you see the risk of circulatory problems, cardiovascular disease, mental health problems moving from two to ten times in terms of the number of early childhood problems. Let’s look at education and this is the famous high school project, the Perry Preschool project. While this is probably the most famous study in early childhood and really started the focus on early childhood I want you all to realize that it didn’t start off as a research project it started off with a principal who wanted to make sure that the children were doing better higher up and he kept working lower and lower down until got to the preschool period and his work was later able to be followed because he wanted the kids to be doing better. What this shows was that the children who were exposed to high quality preschool had lower rates of special education use, the ones who were in the program had half the rate of special education and the ones who had a high preschool education at age 14 they were achieving so much higher and they were more likely to graduate from high school on time. When they got to be age 27 was when we saw the social impacts, they had fewer felonies and misdemeanors and interactions with the juvenile justice system and once they were in the early childhood program. So, here we see the impact of early childhood on crime and on the justice system that high quality early childhood development leads to reduced crime and violence. Then we look at the economic effects. The children who were in the program were earning considerable more than the children who were not in the program , they were more likely to earn their own home and they were less likely to be on welfare support by the government. So here we see that the Ministry of Finance need to be very engaged with early childhood because this means that the economics of any country that pays attention to early childhood development is going to be much better. So we have health, education, social services and finance.”
According to Dr Samms-Vaughan, the ideal classroom situation for a high quality level of early childhood development would be two teachers to a classroom of twenty pre-kinder and kinder with that classroom number increasing to thirty in higher classes.