Early Childhood Development
Every child has a right to the best possible start in life. Research has proven that the earliest years of a child’s life are a critical period for cognitive, social and emotional development, creating a solid foundation for health and well-being in childhood and beyond.
Investments made in children, beginning at birth, are direct investments in Jamaica’s sustainable development. Investing in young children ― ensuring that they receive good health care, quality care and adequate stimulation ― is the best hope for overcoming the HIV/AIDS epidemic and breaking intergenerational cycles of poverty and violence.
Several challenges prevent the optimal development of thousands of Jamaican children ages zero to eight. Immunization rates have declined from rates above 90 per cent in the mid-1990s to a range of 80-90 per cent in 2004, though the slippage might be accounted for by inaccurate updates of vital statistics. In 2002, stunting, wasting and severe malnutrition was affecting close to 6 per cent, 2.8 per cent, and 0.1 per cent, respectively, of children under the age of five. Health care is partly responsible for the slow decline in Jamaica’s under-five mortality rate, which has reduced only marginally over the last ten decades.
According to the 2005 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS), only 45 per cent of lactating mothers breastfeed exclusively at six weeks, and only about one third (33.7 per cent) do so for three months. Only 15 per cent of children under six months are exclusively breastfed, denying thousands of children the vital nutritional benefits of breast milk. Boys are half as likely as girls to benefit from the practice (10.3% and 19.5% respectively).
There is almost universal enrolment of children in pre-primary schools (ages 3-5 years) - 96.8 per cent in 2004 (Jamaica Survey of Living Conditions, JSLC, 2006), with an attendance rate of approximately 71.3 per cent. While enrolment of children in pre-schools remains high, the quality of services is often poor. According to official estimates, fewer than one out of three children entering grade one were ready for primary level, and some 30 per cent of primary school dropouts were illiterate.
Parenting practices are often detrimental to children’s early development. A 2005 study by the Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ) revealed that only one third of parents told stories, played games or sang songs to their children. Physical punishment begins early in a child’s life: the 2005 MICS indicated that eighty-seven per cent of children aged 2-14 are subjected to at least one form of psychological or physical punishment.
Quality Education and Early Childhood Programme ObjectivesThe overall programme’s objective is to promote healthy families and communities in a child-friendly environment through the provision of quality education and health care, meeting the needs and protecting the best interests of the child.
The programme seeks to improve both children’s readiness for primary education and learning outcomes in selected curricular areas in primary education, such as child rights and life skills-based education. Special attention will be paid to the development of gender-sensitive, interactive and child-centred teaching and learning methodologies. The programme also aims to improve the quality of and accessibility to health services for young children and their mothers.
Programme StrategiesThe programme will target interventions at multiple levels:
The programme will also benefit from and contribute to UNICEF support to the areas of education and early childhood development within the CARICOM framework, as well as other Caribbean initiatives.
Projects1. Enabling Policy and Programming Environment
This project will focus mainly on matters relating to legal, regulatory and policy framework in the areas of education and child and maternal health. It will also support the review of the Education Act; the development of the National Education Policy; the finalization and implementation of the Early Childhood curriculum; the establishment and implementation of standards for early childhood institutions; the finalisation and implementation of the National Policy on ECD, a National Parenting Policy, a National Plan of Action for ECD; national adoption of the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes; and the finalisation and implementation of a National Strategic Plan for Safe Motherhood.
2. Improving Access to and Quality of Services
This project, in conjunction with the two other projects, will result in:
3. Monitoring and Evaluation
This project will ensure provision of technical assistance and will focus on improving data collection and analysis, national databases. The project will also provide baseline data to carry out impact evaluations and cost benefit analysis and where necessary appropriate exit strategies.