Education Minister Shaik Baksh yesterday said that greater attention will be paid to literacy at the pre-primary level this year to ensure a smooth transition of pupils to primary schools. Baksh, speaking at the opening of a one-week training workshop for 40 Early Childhood Field Officers convened at the National Centre for Educational Resource Development (NCERD), said the move aims to lay a solid foundation for pupils to be able to read at Grade Two. It also seeks to detect special needs in pupils at an early stage in their learning.
The minister stressed too that pupils will not be allowed to just pass through the pre-primary level, as more stringent systems of monitoring and evaluation will be implemented to ensure key quality imperatives are met.
He posited the view that if pupils receive a good grounding at the pre-primary level, the majority of the challenges with literacy will be non-existent at primary schools.
Under the new education legislation currently at the Attorney General’s Chambers, education at the pre-primary level has been made compulsory. Parents will be required to send their children who have attained the age of three years, nine months to school or risk being placed before the court.
On that note, the minister appealed to parents, particularly poor parents, to make the necessary sacrifices to send their children to school, noting that education provides the light that will lead them out of poverty. Pupils’ attendance at the pre-primary level is around 72 percent but the Ministry is pushing to raise the attendance rate to 90 percent in the next three years.
Minister Baksh pointed out that most often, pupils who did not attend a pre-primary school experience difficulties in coping with studies at the primary level. Most of these pupils, he said, are from poor families, but the trend can be reversed if these parents not only send their children to school, but also play a greater role in their education.
Some 85 percent of school aged pupils are enrolled at the pre-primary level, perhaps the highest coverage in developing world.
This level of access has been made possible through 339 pre-primary schools throughout the country, including 86 classes at primary schools, altogether accommodating some 26,000 pupils. In addition, five new pre-primary schools will be built this year. The student/teacher ratio at the pre-primary level stands at around 15:1 and some 60 percent of teachers at that level have been formally trained.
The Ministry of Education is working to have at least 80 percent of trained teachers in the pre-primary system in the next few years. Baksh said this development is in keeping with the ministry’s goal to strengthen teachers’ capacity at that level to adequately prepare pupils to handle the primary school curriculum.
He said the Ministry of Education has been providing the requisite learning resources to pre-primary schools to aid learning; and on that point, stressed that more will be done to promote child-friendly classrooms at that level.
Chief Education Officer Olato Sam urged the Early Childhood Field Officers to strengthen their link between teachers and pupils and be guardians of accountability, more particularly as it relates to quality education delivery.
He also called on the officers to place literacy at the forefront of their agenda, pointing out that the foundation can be set at the pre-primary level for pupils to succeed at primary schools.
He said the Ministry of Education remains committed to supporting the efforts of teachers in this regard, as at the end of the day, improvement in pupils performance is what really matters.
UNICEF education specialist, Michele Rodrigues, lauded the strides made by the ministry to achieve gender equity and quality in education delivery. She said too that the local nursery programme holds its own in the Caribbean and urged the officers to not only work with headteachers, but parents and the community as well, to raise awareness of the importance of Early Childhood Education.
The one week workshop seeks to improve management efficiency at pre-primary schools and early childhood classes in primary schools, ensure universal access to pre-primary education, and attain literacy and numeracy standards at the early childhood level of learning.