PARLIAMENT has passed a bill to better regulate and manage early childhood institutions or basic schools. The legislation comes against the background of the mushrooming of informal basic schools across the island that are not regulated by the state.
The bill, entitled 'An Act to Provide for the Regulation and Management of Early Childhood Institutions and for other Connected Matters', provides for the regulation of basic schools to require the registration of such schools and implement standards with regard to safety, sanitation, health and supervision, as well as appropriate monitoring of early childhood institutions.
Piloted by education minister Maxine Henry-Wilson in the House on Tuesday, it also introduces stiff fines of up to $200,000 for persons who operate unregistered institutions or who do not hold valid permits.
And for those institutions that practice corporal punishment or beat children in those schools, the law now deems it an offence, punishable by a $250,000 fine.
In the debate on the bill, Henry-Wilson said that there had been much public comment on the perceived omission of the early childhood sector from the recent report of the Task Force on Education, but that the report itself had explained that a comprehensive analysis was underway.
She noted however that there was need to establish a comprehensive regulatory framework for early childhood education, adding that the delivery of services by the various ministries was insufficiently coordinated, resulting in duplication and inefficient use of limited resources.
Responding to the bill, opposition leader Edward Seaga welcomed its introduction which he noted would "give teeth and substance to the work to be done in this area."
However he chided the government for not having done enough for the sector over the years resulting in the perpetuation of a situation where, he said, only about 20 to 30 per cent of children from basic schools were ready to absorb truing at the primary level.
"It is this 70 per cent that is re-emerging - leaving school without a pass and coming out at the end of the line with the same level. They haven't caught up," said Seaga.
He called on the government to overhaul the sector and to put more resources in early childhood to boost the education standards at that level. This, he said, would contribute to a better educational product and eventually a more stable society.
HAVE YOU BEEN
TO THE NEWSROOM?