Early Childhood Development
Investing in quality early learning programmes for children is the most efficient way to protect children from a very young age, ensure on time attendance and success in school, and reduce national social expenditures later in life. Returns are greatest for the most at-risk children. For that population in particular, quality early learning programmes can result in reduced costs later for special education, remedial classes, and even incarceration. The Learning and Development Programme begins with Early Childhood Development as the foundation for good transitioning and performance in Quality Basic Education and Secondary Education.
Early Childhood Development (ECD) spans the period from conception to age eight, with responsibilities and roles shared by five Ministries; the Ministry of Public Health; the Ministry of Social Protection; the Ministry of Education; the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples Affairs and the Ministry of Local Government. The University of Guyana is also a critical partner in the development and implementation of structured ECD certification programmes at the certificate, undergraduate and graduate levels.
Low quality, sparse coverage and sustainability of ECD programmes hinder the achievement of equity and quality in education for all children. Lack of knowledge on the part of parents, their sometimes low literacy levels and lack of coordinated support systems add to the challenges. Moreover, while pre and post-natal health is available, child protection and readiness issues still elude many parents. Mothers and fathers, often ill prepared for parenting, fail in registering births, which is an important issue that affects children later in their lives.
ECD programmes and facilities, namely day care centres and play groups for ages 3 months to 3 years are few and are offered in urban and coastal areas where about 80% of the population lives. Parents must pay for these services which reach about 4% of the eligible 12% children in this age group. Only 2% meet ECD minimum standards.
Children in the hinterland where most of the indigenous population live are the least likely to be exposed to early stimulation in any formal setting, except for what their families are capable of offering, and what is provided by public and private sector health clinics. Over the last two years, through UNICEF’s intervention, children from birth to age three years are happily engaged in early stimulation under the guidance of Community Health Workers (all of whom are indigenous), and other health practitioners in the Maternal Health Clinics. Visits to homes to conduct on-site training with parents and older siblings has contributed to 50% of children in hinterland now being exposed to early stimulation in a structured way.
Early Childhood Development - Suriname
Nutrition and early stimulation. Suriname has the lowest rate of exclusive breastfeeding in Latin America and the Caribbean (3%), and the second lowest in the world. Only 15% of children are still being breastfed at 2 years and adequate feeding for children 6-23 months was only 16% (MICS4, 2010).
Development assessment and early detection. Early detection of disabilities and intervention are not yet systematically part of ECD services in Suriname. Currently, the health system does not provide comprehensive post-natal care, home visits and other community based interventions.
Multi-sectoral intervention in ECD. Daycare Centers are a common practice in Suriname. There are estimated 14 government owned/ subsidized, and 200 private daycare centers in Suriname that provide care services for children below 4 years old. Although the legislation on the standards for care institutions was approved in 2013 by the Parliament, the monitoring of the care, standards, quality of service, has been weak due to limited capacity, scattered registration and monitoring systems.
REPETITION, DROPOUT, AND QUALITY OF EDUCATION
Suriname has high repetition rates with 37% of boys and 24% of girls repeating first grade in 2013 (2014 EFA Report). The percentage of overage students is also high in schools, especially in disadvantaged neighborhoods and in rural areas.
Inadequate education policies and enabling environment. Suriname had an outdated and rigid education system, and education is compulsory only for children aged 7-12. The amendment and renewal of the policy on education was submitted to the Parliament in 2013 to extend the compulsory education age to 4-16 years old, but it is still pending approval. Despite the lack of legislation, 90% of children aged 4-5 are enrolled in the system.
As a consequence of the current economic crisis, school fees have been reintroduced, and this will disproportionately impact the most vulnerable families.