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Early childhood care and education at the forefront |06 July 2019

Early childhood care and education at the forefront

A baseline assessment conducted by the Institute of Early Childhood Development (IECD) from February 11 -20 this year shows a number of shortages in services provided by day-care centres in the country.

The assessment, carried out in collaboration with SEED Institute in Singapore, was a fact-finding mission to 27 day-care centres in order to gauge their quality of services and operations.

Its findings were presented yesterday by Dr Geraldine Teo-Zuzarte, early childhood expert from SEED Institute, during IECD’s first ever National ECCE forum.

Present were the Minister for Education and Human Resource Development Jeanne Simeon, Minister for Health Jean-Paul Adam, Ambassador for Women and Children Dr Erna Athanasius, chief executive of IECD Shirley Choppy, day-care operators and assistants, and other key stakeholders.

Through observation visits and interviews, the assessment came up with a final summary report as well as individualised reports for each day-care centres.

And the reports’ contents were somewhat dismal.

Although the assessment noted that most centres adhered to the national guidelines, it also showed that many children in the centres were crowded in small spaces and established that the teacher and child ratio, set by the ministry’s policies, were inadequate.

Hence many educators were found unable to deliver educational experiences that provided children’s deep engagement and learning.

Currently the policy states that there should be one teacher to three children of ages 0-3 months; one teacher to five students of ages 4-9 months; 1 teacher to 10 students of ages 10 to 18 months and one teacher to fifteen of ages 19-36 months.

The baseline assessment further highlighted that there are a high number of untrained staff in most day-care centres and, in most cases, only the centre’s directors and operators had some basic training in ECCE.

In terms of physical environment, most outdoor spaces were found lacking with insufficient play equipment to engage sustained play in young children.

The indoor spaces of some day-care centres were described as not ideal for day-care in terms of flow, space and supervision, and were “generally hot and not well ventilated”.

Other issues included heavily processed food and juice boxes brought from home, lack of proper diaper areas and sanitation procedures and staff who are not trained in First Aid.

The report therefore recommends that there is a need to review standards in infrastructure, review the current staff-child ratio, enhance staff-children interactions, enforce First Aid and other compulsory training and ensure that ECCE staff are well qualified, knowledgeable and skillful.

“I found that there was unevenness in service delivery. There are centres that are doing well and there are centres that need help, and I think it is important that we begin to look at what the centres are able to achieve first so that they can close the gaps quickly,” Dr Teo-Zuzarte remarked.

She commended Seychelles’ commitment, dedication and vision for early childhood, adding that people underestimate the importance of good quality ECCE.

“We know that the critical years to invest in young children are from birth up to 3 because children are capable and vulnerable between those ages; this is when the brain is developing so it requires that the adults who provide these services or who interact with them are well-qualified. Therefore it is important to look at what some of the initiatives we could undertake to attract more people into early childhood.”

“These issues are not unique to Seychelles; they are multi-leveled and multi-faceted. It ranges from infrastructure, to what we are doing in regards to staff qualification and experiences. But I need to say that IECD is already taking very strong and bold first steps and I am excited to see what is going to happen to Seychelles in the next few years,” Dr Teo-Zuzarte concluded.

Julina Madeleine, principal officer for centre-based child-minding services at IECD, noted that the institute has preemptively set up a multi-sectoral committee tasked with developing standards and policies to better guide the ECCE sector.

“IECD is mandated to regulate child-minding services in the country, be it home-based or centre-based. But at this junction day-care centres are still under the purview of the education ministry but they are soon to migrate to IECD,” Mrs Madeleine explained.

“Before this happens however IECD wants to put things in order and this is the reason why we decided to study day-care centres; so as to identify and work on their deficiencies.”

Yesterday’s forum on ECCE also included a question and answer session where Dr Teo-Zuzarte responded to queries relating to how ECCE is implemented and dealt with in Singapore, and how to improve on its development in Seychelles.

Following the forum, Dr Teo-Zuzarte facilitated a sensitisation workshop at the Indian high commission for day-care operators and assistants

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