As early childhood institutions (ECIs) prepare for start of the 2020/21 academic year in September, Acting Chief Education Officer in the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information, Dr. Kasan Troupe, says operators and staff within the sector have been trained in the necessary Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) protocols to safeguard children.


“The ECI sector [stakeholders have] been fully trained by the Ministry of Health and Wellness and are fully sensitized on the activities that should happen on the ground,” she informed.


Dr. Troupe, who advised that ECIs are slated to reopen September 7, further indicated that they will stage their simulation activities and phased resumption, as well as training and protocol engagements.


She was speaking during the Ministry’s back-to-school digital information session for parents, on Tuesday (August 4).


The event was jointly hosted with the National Parenting Support Commission (NPSC) and the National Parent-Teacher Association of Jamaica (NPTAJ).


Dr. Troupe said special attention is being given to ECI stakeholders to ensure that safety protocols are strictly observed, as the institutions conduct simulation and other activities in preparation for the sector’s full resumption.


“All schools would normally commence [on] the first Monday in September. Our ECIs and basic schools will… commence simulation activities in the first week of September to ensure that our babies, parents and staff members are sensitized about the protocols,” she said.


Dr. Troupe said in light of the Health Ministry’s recommendation against the wearing of masks by children, aged zero to two years, strict physical distancing and sanitization protocols must be observed at ECIs.


Among the safety protocols being implemented are the use of small class sizes to facilitate physical distancing and ensure that children are closely monitored.


For the zero to 12 months cohort, the student-teacher ratio will be five to one; for the 13 to 35 months cohort, groupings will be eight to one; and the three to five years age cohort will see groupings of 10 to one.


Additionally, the Early Childhood Commission’s (ECC) guidelines recommend classroom seating arrangements of 20 sq. ft. per child.


ECC guidelines to support physical distancing also recommend that all planned activities not involve the sharing of objects, and that group activities should, as much and as best as is possible, be conducted externally.


“Operators will also need to create safe spaces. We know the children will not keep the mask on for very long; so in the structured activities, children must take breaks in a safe space,” Dr. Troupe emphasized.


The ECC was established in 2003 by the Early Childhood Commission Act. Its functions include advising the Portfolio Minister on policy matters relating to early childhood care, education and development in Jamaica.


Among these are initiatives and actions to achieve national early childhood development goals; assisting in the preparation of plans and programmes relating to early childhood development; and monitoring and evaluating the system.