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UNICEF Ambassador delivers powerful message to Dominican children

DOMINICA- 10-year-old Anna is all smiles as she dons her blue UNICEF t-shirt and strides out to the field to join her peers for a football clinic.

For the past three months the primary school student has been among a small group of girls in Dominica who are pursuing a dream of playing football, but this Saturday morning is different for Anna and her peers.

They are among a group of approximately 40 girls and boys aged 7-12 years specially chosen to attend a football clinic hosted by UNICEF Canada Ambassador Karina LeBlanc, one of the best women football players on the international stage.

Born to Dominican parents Karina, who is goalkeeper for the Canadian women’s soccer team and Olympic bronze medallist at the 2012 London games, conducted the interactive and fun session at the Bath Playing Field, just outside capital Roseau as one of the activities during an official five-day visit to the Eastern Caribbean island.

“I was you. I grew up here and I’m here to tell you dream big, dream big and go after your dreams,” advised Karina, the longest-serving player in Canadian soccer history. She has represented Canada for more than 15 years including at two Olympic Games, three Pan American Games and four FIFA Women’s World Cups.

It was a message the athletic Ambassador delivered to children all over Dominica, whether at the North East Compressive School where she addressed fill assembly before having an intimate session with students enrolled in a sports programme which seeks to bring out the best in them or at the Portsmouth Secondary school located in the town she had her upbringing.

“I want you to go after a dream … it doesn’t have to be sports. Sports was an incredible tool for me. It taught me so much, but I want you guys to go after something great. I want you guys to be great. Not good, not average, but great. Remember I came from a place just like you and I decided that I wanted to be special,” Karina told the students.

It was a message which resonated with 16-year-old Stacia Charles who says she values the advice from the international player and will be taking the advice to heart.

“It was good hearing her say she grew up here because that is telling me I can go on to be the best at whatever I choose,” Stacia says.

Karina’s home visit was facilitated by UNICEF Canada with logistical support from the Government of Dominica.

Target 2015: Universal ECD in Dominica

ROSEAU- It was just past 8 a.m. in the rural community of St Joseph in Dominica.

Desma Montoute, a 27 year-old mother of two, had just dropped off her three-year-old son Damon at the pre-school which is now a part of the recently-renamed Kaleb John Laurent Primary School in her community.

It is still a new concept for her to bring her child to a government-supported pre-school as a short two years ago she was among approximately 20 per cent of mothers in Dominica who were forced to keep their infants at home because of a lack of access to structured early childhood development services.

“He is really the first one in the family to be going to pre-school,” she says, as she proudly relays that her son knows his alphabet, can count and has grown much more sociable and confident in the nearly one year he has been exposed to formal pre-school education.

Damon and other pre-schoolers in Dominica are attending pre-school thanks to a Government policy to make early childhood education available to all pre-schoolers in Dominica by 2015.

A year from the 2015 target, Marcilla Powell, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Education, reckons that Dominica is within two percent of reaching the target of making pre-school universally accessible to all three to five year old in the Eastern Caribbean country.

ECD was not reaching rural communities

“We found that 20 per cent of our 3-5 years old, especially in rural communities, were not accessing early childhood services for one reason or another. It could be because there was none available in close proximity to their home or because the family could not afford to pay for the services.

“Whatever the specific circumstances preventing children from accessing pre-school opportunities we saw the critical importance of reaching that cohort with developmental activities early and so we boldly embarked on this new policy,” Powell adds.

She revealed that government is taking a number of approaches to reach its ambitious target of making ECD services universal within three years.

“We first did an audit of all primary schools to see which ones had space available for a pre-school centre; we worked with existing community private schools and government gave them a subvention and is paying the salaries of some of the teachers and the final stage now is to build centres in areas where schools do not have space or which are not being served by private facilities,” the official added.

“One of the things we tried to ensure is that is that we did not lead to a situation where private schools are closed. We try to work with them and as government we create the enabling environment and the standards under which the sector should operate,” the Permanent Secretary said.

HighScope to be the standard for pre-schools

ECD Coordinator Veda George notes that one of the standards government has set is ensuring that all pre-schoolers in both private and public settings benefit from the High Scope curriculum which promotes active participatory learning as a way to achieving powerful, positive outcomes.

“This has called for a mind-shift, especially among older educators as its moves away from the main mode of delivery being the teacher standing in front the class and delivering instruction to a student-centred approach which sees children actively participating in their learning,” George adds.

The government strategy to take ownership of educating pre-schoolers meant significant changes for owners of some private facilities.

One such is Lucina Serrant, an experienced educator who ran her own facility for 20 years before it was merged with another community pre-school school and housed at the government-owned St. Joseph Primary School.

“The transition has been smooth for both myself and the students. I’ve adjusted well to both the new arrangement and the High Scope model,” she says, adding that the close proximity to the primary school provides an opportunity for pre-schoolers to gradually get integrated into primary school culture.

“My only disappointment is that since we came together parents who used to pay fees mistakenly think its government’s responsibility now and they do not make any financial contributions so we struggle a bit in terms of getting material we need to make a success of the High Scope model,” Serrant adds.

She says this is an area all stake-holders will have to address in the short term. 

Primary schools seeing benefits of pre-school education

 The benefits of exposure to early childhood education are known and educators at the primary school level are already looking to expanded ECD opportunities to have a positive impact on the readiness of students to start their primary school education.

One such educator is Gretta Rovers, principal of the Roseau Primary School, which draws its students from many disadvantaged populations around the City area.

“Many of my Grade K students previously came unprepared to receive an education because parents in our catchment area did not have schools available and where they were available the parents could not afford to send their children to pre-school.

“Even the pre-school on our compound got off the ground fairly late because we cater to mostly underprivileged children and parents thought they had to pay to send their children to the ECD centre. They have however gradually come on board and now we have a full cohort who will be much more prepared to enter our Grade K,” the principal adds.

According to George the challenges for the ECD sector in Dominica include reaching the few communities which will need purpose built pre-schools, ensuring that systems are implemented to ensure that teaching materials are readily available and expanding High Scope training to Grade K teachers and primary school principals so that there are linkages between how children are taught at pre-school and at primary schools.

These, all the administrators agree, are challenges which will be met head-on as Dominica reaches its target of universal access to early childhood education by 2015.



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