None will dispute the fact that the move toward provision of pre-school education for all who require it in the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago is undoubtedly a profitable investment in our human capital formation. According to economist and Nobel Prize Winner Jack Heckman (2012), exposure to early childhood experiences in pre-school years are not only fundamental to the success of each child in life, but it is a cost-effective strategy for promoting the economic growth and stability of a country. Empirical evidence is also available from around the world to show that sufficient financial investments made in pre-school education can increase primary school readiness, lower repetition and dropout rates, reduce teenage pregnancy rates and decrease dependency on social welfare benefits (Lamy, 2013).
In light of a wealth of literature available on the beneficial outcomes of pre-school education both to the young child as well as society, it augurs well to postulate that early intervention may be the single most powerful weapon to prevent so many of the social ills plaguing our society today.
Within the broad framework of building human capacity however, recognition must be given to the significant role of the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) teacher in nurturing, caring for and developing our most precious human resources. Yet, unfortunately their roles as professionals in the field of education continue to be undervalued, undefined and unsupported by policy makers in this country. In fact, many still hold on to the traditional view that the ECCE professionals are merely glorified “baby sitters”.
This article seeks to heighten national awareness and need for policy dialogue on the value and worth of those who work with young children between the ages of three (3) to five (5) in our Early Childhood Centres. The article further attempts to put forward the argument that the ECCE teachers are society's greatest untapped resources essential to the sustainable development of this country’s human capital, yet they remain the unsung heroes of society today.
In the quest to achieve Universal Pre-School Education in this country, much public investment was directed towards improving existing physical infrastructure and constructing new ECCE Centres that were in compliance with the national guidelines of Occupational Safety and Health Act. Additionally, investment was also concentrated on creating state-of-the-art learning environments with modern equipment and furniture in all ECCE Centres. Little emphasis has been placed on improving the status and enhancement of the professional identity of the ECCE workforce. As a result, many in society still view ECCE Centres as providing “day care services”.
"While researchers agree that the learning environment is an important aspect in high quality early childhood education programmes, the teacher remains a key variable in the quality process."
While researchers agree that the learning environment is an important aspect in high quality early childhood education programmes, the teacher remains a key variable in the quality process. According to Nelson (2006), rather than traditional teaching of only fundamental knowledge and skills essential for entry into the primary school system, the ECCE teacher is expected to have knowledge base and clear conceptual understanding of the theories of child development, child psychology and developmentally appropriate pedagogical practices in order to stimulate young children’s capacity to develop and learn. It is the ECCE teacher, depending on the needs of the children in the particular ECCE centres in which he/she operates, who is responsible for selecting educational material and designing learning experiences that will pique the young child’s curiosity and interest in learning. In the report Investing in our Future: the Evidence Based on Pre-School Education (2013) the authors endorse the position held by Nelson (2006 ) and further add that the most important process variables in any quality pre-school education programme are the stimulating and supportive interactions between teacher and child. The report goes on to state that it is during these stimulating and supportive interaction with the pre-school teacher that children acquire new knowledge and skills upon which their ultimate success in life is determined. However, despite all the research data that supports the value and worth of the ECCE teachers to date, their statuses and professional identities remain at the periphery of the education sector and national development dialogue.
The terms and conditions under which these educators operate in the twin island of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago still leaves much to be desired. Their jobs continue to be contractual ones, and due to this situation, unlike their peers in the primary and secondary school sector they are expected to report for duties during school vacations. To further add to their dilemma, there is a pervading belief in society today that children’s education only commences upon entry into primary school. These issues gives rise to the following fundamental questions and raise serious ethical concerns:
- As a progressive society, what is the value currently placed on children’s early care and education in the Caribbean?
- Is there equality of treatment meted out to those working with young children at ECCE Centres when compared to their counterparts in the education system?
- What are the incentives to encourage professionals to enter the ECCE education sector?
- Is there a career ladder to promote growth as a professional in the field?
- Is teacher remuneration in early childhood settings comparable to that of teachers in the primary school setting?
- Does the country have a plan to raise the profile of the ECCE as professionals in the education system?
Fullan (1993) contends that systems cannot change by themselves. Rather, it is through the actions of individuals that constructive change happens. Without political will and decisive intervention by the policy and decision makers in this country, the challenges currently faced by the ECCE educators will continue to perpetuate inequalities in our education system. The early childhood workforce cannot grow, flourish or stand proud as a profession with its own strong unique identity if its significant role in contributing to building human capital is not given the recognition it deserves. The evidence is clear that investment made in enhancing professional identity of the ECCE teachers can yield important benefits for all in society and continued failure to address the fundamental questions highlighted in this paper is a gamble with the economic and social stability of a country.
Barnett, W. S. (1992). Benefits of Compensatory Preschool Education. The Journal of Human Resources, 27(2), 279-312. doi:10.2307/145736
Bowman , B. T., Donovan, M. S., & Burns, M. S. (2001). Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington DC: National Academy Press.
Fullan , M. (1993). Change Forces: Probing the Depths of Educational Reform. London: Falmer Press.
Lamy, C. E. (2013, May). How Preschool Fights Poverty. Educational Leadership, 70(8), 32-36.
Nelson, A. (2006, April). Closing the Gap: Early Childhood Education. The Achievement Gap: Early Childhood Education(45).
UNESCO. (2010, March 27-29). Concept Paper The World Conference on Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE): Building the Wealth of Nations. Moscow, Russia. Retrieved from http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=2&ved=0CCQQFjABahUKEwiQtpLn04rIAhWKdT4KHerCA3U&url=http%3A%2F%2Funesdoc.unesco.org%2Fimages%2F0018%2F001873%2F187376e.pdf&usg=AFQjCNGc06V-MDYgda5kBT5BHcOgDy8pfg&sig2=1Lp-bbIOJgkO0eu9aeRJnA
Weikart, D. P. (1989). Quality Preschool Programs: A Long-Term Social Investment. Occasional Paper Number 5. New York: Ford Foundation.
About the Author
Ms. Patricia Mara Bissessar is the recently retired principal of the Santa Flora Government Primary School located in Trinidad and Tobago. As an educator, she holds over forty-three (43) years of experience in the field. She has given service at every level of education in her country from the Early Childhood level to Tertiary, where she served as a part-time lecturer at the School of Education, University of the West Indies. She has also served as Teacher Development Specialist/Consultant in Early Childhood Care and Education at the Ministry of Education.