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Littlest Learners, Biggest Impact: The Importance of Early Childhood Education

By: Toby Hayes
Chairperson
Education Committee
The Organization for Responsible Governance

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Do you remember being asked the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?”? It was a question that instilled a sense of excitement, wonder, and hope. All things seemed possible. For many young Bahamians, though, the spectrum of opportunities slowly contracts and diminishes for one sole reason: education. According to Ministry of Education statistics, from 2015-2017 nearly half of the students that take the BJC don’t go on to take the BGCSE and, of those that do, less than 40% achieve a grade of C or above.

Whilst standardized testing at the primary school level, such as the GLAT, show more promising results, the Minister of Education stated in his 2017 budget contribution that primary level teachers “routinely lament” the gaps in literacy, numeracy, and cognitive skills in young students, especially those who have not had the benefit of pre-primary education.

Education is one of the most fundamental factors in fulfilling one’s potential and studies increasingly indicate that early childhood education is key. In The Bahamas, paid maternity leave ceases twelve weeks after giving birth and public school starts at age five, which begs the question: where are children from three months to five years? This interval potentially represents a huge investment gap in children at the most crucial years for brain and social development.

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Benefits of Early Childhood Education

  • Longer attention spans and better retention of information
  • A reduction in behavioral issues
  • Improvement in social skills
  • Less likely to need special education later in school
  • More likely to graduate from high school
  • Less likely to be involved with crime in later years

According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children, the foundations for a child's social skills, self-esteem, perception of the world, moral outlook, and the development of cognitive skills are established during these early years. From birth to the age of three, a child undergoes a rapid phase of development as their brains grow faster than at any other point in their lives. These years are critical.  Recognizing this, the promotion of early childhood education is one of the key objectives of the Organization for Responsible Governance.

In an era where government spending is limited, it is impractical to consider an active investment program for all persons. The real question is how to use the available funds wisely. The best evidence supports investing in the very young and improving basic learning and socialization skills. Studies have shown that the rate of return on a dollar of investment while a person is younger is higher than the rate of return for the same dollar invested later in life. The Ministry of Education has recognized this, pledging to scale up public pre-schooling over a medium-term timeline. However, could we be doing even more, even earlier?

As stated by Jack P. Shonkoff, MD, Julius B. Richmond FAMRI Professor of Child Health and Development, "the basic principles of neuroscience indicate that providing supportive conditions for early childhood development is more effective and less costly than attempting to address the consequences of early adversity later". It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken adults and, as a society, “we cannot afford to postpone investing in children until they become adults, nor can we wait until they reach school age – a time when it may be too late to intervene. The best evidence supports the policy prescription: invest in the very young and improve basic learning and socialization skills."

What is the role of the Caregiver?

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The caregiver is the significant person who meets the child’s needs on an ongoing basis. Their role is typically threefold:

  1. to provide love, care, and nurturance for the child;
  2. make sure the child is safe and healthy; and
  3. engage the child in play, conversation, singing and activities that expand learning.

Everyone wants the best for their children but, by failing to fully appreciate the importance of the first 1000 days of a child’s life, parents or caregivers may, unwittingly, be hindering a child’s future success. Learning should not only happen in school as parents and caregivers should also play a key role in promoting skills during the early years.

Stable, responsive, nurturing relationships and rich learning experiences in the earliest years provide lifelong benefits for learning, behavior and both physical and mental health. In contrast, research on the biology of stress in early childhood shows how chronic stress caused by major adversity, such as abuse or neglect, can weaken developing brain architecture and permanently set the body’s stress response system on high alert, thereby increasing the risk for a range of chronic diseases.

So, what can YOU do? It’s simple: just talk and sing to your child from a very young age. Research has shown that singing to infants and engaging toddlers and young children in meaningful conversations helps develop their cognitive abilities. Children who get the attention they need early in life do better in school and are likely to have higher long-term earnings and greater social stability.

Your child can also develop key skills through play and games that reinforce key areas of learning and development such as communication and language, physical development, personal, social and emotional development, literacy, mathematics, understanding the world, and expressive arts and design.

“Most parents know that talking to their child helps them develop. But a new study has revealed that it’s how you talk to your child that really matters for their brain growth. Rather than spouting complex words at them, or showing flashcards in the hope of enriching their vocabulary, the key is to engage them in “conversational turns” – in other words, a good old chat. In a study of children between the ages of 4 and 6, cognitive scientists at MIT found that such back-and-forth conversation changes the child’s brain. Specifically, it can boost the child’s brain development and language skills, as measured both by a range of tests and MRI brain scans. This was the case regardless of parental income or education.” ~ Sophie Hardach, Correspondent, World Economic Forum

If you are in need of inspiration, there are fantastic resources online such as Little Baby Bum, which is free, and ABC Mouse, which is currently available for $2.50 per month. If you are interested in more involved parenting education try the National Parenting Programme, lead by the Department of Social Services. This 8-12 week program provides parents with information to promote healthy families and encourage child development. Find out more about their classes at: (242)-604 -4259/8 or by email at ntlparentingprogramme@bahamas.gov.bs. 

In addition, the Department of Public Health runs a program called The ParentCraft Program which hosts seminars on early child development and nutrition and provides support for new parents. For more information contact your local public clinic or the Department of Public Health at (242) 502-4782. 


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About Toby Hayes

As ORG Chairperson for Education Reform, Toby Hayes is charged with spearheading ORG’s education reform strategy and coordinating initiatives such as legislation for public-private partnership schools, early learning advocacy, and vocational learning and apprenticeship programs, amongst others.

A former teacher and tutor from The United Kingdom via New York, Hayes brings international experience and perspective to ORG’s education reform initiatives. A qualified lawyer and certified Chartered Financial Analyst, Hayes is passionate about ensuring equal access to first class education,  a universal human right. 

 



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