Early Childhood Education Conference…
Creative expression is lacking in most schools – Professor Roopnarine
Kaieteur News
June 3, 2004

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THE University of Guyana School of Education and Humanities in collaboration with the United Nations Children Education Fund, yesterday, held its first Early Childhood Education Conference at the Turkeyen Campus.

The conference was held under the theme: “Celebrating the Past, Honouring the Present and Planning for the Future - Early Childhood Education in Guyana” and provided the opportunity through presentations and discussions for participants to examine issues regarding early childhood education in Guyana.

Patron of the conference and Chairperson of the National Commission for the Rights of the Child, First Lady Varshnie Jagdeo, emphasised that it is the right of every child to have access to early education.

She said that early education has great impact on the social skills, intellectual capacity and character building of a child.

Mrs. Jagdeo stated, “For children to meet their true potential, they need continuous mental and physical stimulation.”

She urged stakeholders in childhood education to work together to ensure that no child is left out.

Speaking of behalf of the Ministry of Education, Minister Henry Jeffery welcomed those involved in early childhood education’s research and instruction, to collaborate with the Ministry.

The Minister said that 90% of the nursery schools in Guyana has 90% enrollment which he referred to as “an enviable network of nursery schools.”

He revealed that the Ministry of Education has in its five-year strategic plan, intentions to revise the early education programme in nursery schools and organise training for teachers involved in childhood education.

Operations Manager of UNICEF, Lajpatroy Samaroo told the delegates, “Every year approximately 11 million children across the world die before they reach age five. This is because caregivers lack the necessary knowledge and skills to nurture these children.”

He emphasised the importance of early education and said it is one investment that has guaranteed status.

A Guyanese-born Professor at the Syracuse University in New York, Professor Jaipaul Roopnarine, gave an informative and motivating feature address about how to provide optimum nurturing for the child.

Giving a brief history of early childhood education in Guyana before the 1970s, Professor Roopnarine reminded the participants of the bottom house schools, which he said cost about 50 –150 cents per month.

They were loosely organised and children sat on benches in a straight line to be taught by their instructors. The environment was quite unappealing, the professor said.

He moved on to the rise of the denominational schools, highlighting the example of Stella Marris, which charged $20 dollars per term and facilitated upper class children.

By 1976, an average of 19,000 children attended either a bottom house, denominational or private school.

A significant number of 58,000 stayed at home in what was referred to as a ‘self-cared’ practice by parents, siblings or extended family.

It was in September, 1968 that the Ministry of Education announced that there would be free education for children between the 3.9 and 5.9 age groups.

Presently, the Professor stated that 2.175 billion children in the post industrialised and industrialised nations are non-White. The demography is made up of African, Asians and Latin American between the 0-6 yrs age group. Only a third of those children are exposed to early childhood education.

The opportunities for early childhood education, the Professor noted, include social and school readiness but most importantly, it is a human capital investment.

The professor identified some constructive perspectives for early childhood education that included self-discovery at the heart of learning, play at the centre of the curriculum and the child as an active learner. This process, the professor noted, better prepares the child for later schooling and to be a democratic individual.

He said that the focus on early childhood education should be beyond school. “We need to recognise the intelligence that lies within children.

They possess the ability to process abstract and logical thoughts. We need to nurture the children to be democratic and freethinking. We should not suppress the growth of children by letting them sit on narrow benches and listen to their teachers all the time,” Professor Roopnarine said. He noted that most of the early childhood education programmes are academically inclined.

He added that the environment in which this process is organised lacks the appropriate developmental materials to properly nurture the minds of young children. “Creative expression is lacking in most schools,” he said.

Early education programmes should focus on the development of the entire child. It should stress the development of the child’s psychological, social, emotional and intellectual growth, the professor said.

He stated, while early childhood education ought to be geared to develop the academic ability of the child, to a large extent it should be play-based.

The Professor revealed that research has shown that play has many social and cognitive benefits.

He noted that the culture in Guyana is that when a child would have entered the primary education system, it is expected that they came prepared to learn.

Parents put additional pressure on them, creating a situation of an “academic rat race” which really serves to undermine the growth of the child.

The professor emphasised that the curriculum should be culturally appropriate. He said it should focus on socio-emotional development, inter-ethnic understanding and friendship. “An anti-bias curriculum is key to Guyana’s educational process,” the professor stated.

“The system must provide opportunities to support the child’s home culture and establish relationships with the family.”

He concluded that the teacher’s training should emphasise more training on the basic development of the child psyche.

“If you don’t understand the child and how they develop, how can you teach them?” he asked.