The Transitions Project - Helping Jamaican Children Make the Move from Pre-Primary to Primary School
In September 2005, six-year-old Michael Persaud will be leaving the St Thomas Church Basic School to enter the Race Course Primary School, just a few meters away. He is understandably excited about the move to a “big school.”
The physical distance between both schools is very short for Michael, but for many Jamaican children the transition from a pre-primary or basic school to a primary school may be a long and challenging journey. It is a time when they must adjust to a new school, a new teacher and a new curriculum. They will also have to adapt to a more structured- sometimes more rigid- learning environment, a new teaching style and higher demands.
Little Michael is lucky however. He has been part of the UNICEF-funded Pre-Primary to Primary Schools Transitions Pilot Project which is designed to improve the readiness levels of children entering grade one. The project, which has been piloted in 11 schools in South East Clarendon, aims to do this by providing developmentally appropriate teaching methods and learning environments in pre-primary institutions and throughout grades one and two.
“Transitions,” which began as a project of the Education Ministry in 2001, targeted children, teachers and parents. Training was provided for basic and primary school teachers and 30 teachers were trained in early literacy and early science instructional approaches. The project also provided participants with teacher resource books. Children in the nine pre-primary and two primary schools involved in the pilot benefited from their teachers’ new skills and knowledge which were put to use in classrooms.
Maxine Cole, Michael’s former teacher, was a participant in the project and has high praises for the in-service teacher training, provided with the assistance of educators from the Shortwood Teacher’s College. She says the school also received furniture, toys and teaching and learning material under the project.
Besides meeting the needs of students and teachers, Transitions recognised and worked towards parental involvement in the project. Parent education meetings were held to raise parents’ awareness about the project, to build their self esteem and to introduce them to methods they could use to encourage their children’s educational development.
Michael’s mother, Marcia says these parenting meetings were very valuable to her and to other parents involved. She explains that the project has empowered parents to help their children. “The project helped us as parents and gave us the opportunity to know things we did not know of before. It taught us using practical examples and we learnt to make the materials to use with the children.”
Marcia says that the parenting sessions also provided parents who previously had very little interaction with each other to socialize and to get to know each other better: “So many parents in the community are now talking more to each other. We socialize more and communicate more and this will also help in the community on a wider scale.”
She asserts that she has seen a difference in Michael since his involvement in the project. She says he has learnt a lot and is now more curious, more confident and asks many more questions.
“There were many times when I used to shut him up. This does not happen anymore. I have learnt how to praise and encourage him.”
With the pilot project now ending, both Marcia and Maxine emphasise that all stakeholders, including the Education Ministry, must work towards sustaining Transitions.
“The funding agencies like UNICEF see the necessity of this project and they have supported it and we are thankful for all they have done. Our local authorities must now take up the challenge and continue programmes like this. We cannot just let these programmes go” Maxine insists.