This week, 21st to the 27th of May, the Territory of The Virgin Islands through the Ministry of Education, Youth Affairs and Sports pauses to observe Early Childhood Awareness Week. The theme for the week is, ‘Supporting Early Childhood Development.’ The United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 4 targets Quality Education.
Quality education has been identified as the strategy that enables upward socioeconomic mobility, is key to escaping poverty and ensures that we produce citizens who are can compete globally.
Early Childhood Education is the bedrock of any thriving education system and any thriving society.
The science of brain architecture presents clear evidence that, during pregnancy and the first three years after birth, critical elements of our health, well-being and productivity are established, which will last throughout childhood, adolescence, and adulthood.
A new-born baby’s brain contains almost all the neurons it will ever have. By age 2, massive numbers of neuronal connections have been made in response to interactions with the environment, and especially interactions with caregivers. This rapid brain development is driven by a genetic pattern established over hundreds of thousands of years, but it is steered by the young child’s experiences (World Health Organisation, 2018).
While the interplay of biology and the environment are present at birth, they continue through to age 8. Thus, early childhood is recognised as that period of a person’s life from the time they are born until the age of eight.
Interactions with the environment and interactions with caregivers are two key concepts proven to have significant impact of the development of the brain during the early childhood stages. Caregivers here include parents, guardians, childcare workers, early childhood practitioners, and teachers.
Interactions are the keys to unlocking the brain’s potential during those critical years. Recognising the importance of positive interactions, we must improve on our strategic action of increasing access to quality early childhood experiences.
For us at the Ministry of Education, it means increasing and improving on access to quality early childhood services. We cannot do it alone. Quality early childhood services means access to quality services for families, prenatal care, neo-natal healthcare, nutrition, and when observed, the provision of effective and sustainable early childhood-intervention.
It is about ensuring that families and caregivers of young children receive support to provide nurturing care to young children, and that those with additional needs get extra support and services.
As we seek to re-imagine education in the Virgin Islands, one of our mandates is to strengthen our legislative framework for guiding and guarding the provision of early childhood services in the territory. We already have Early Childhood Regulations and Standards for those regulations in place. We are currently working to finalise a Comprehensive Policy for Early Childhood Care and Education.
We are working towards strengthening our relationships with other key stakeholders to close the gaps that currently exist. This will allow us to identify where and how we can work more cohesively to effectively support young children and families.
As Minister for Education, I encourage all stakeholders to review current policies and practices to ensure that they are family-friendly and that more child-friendly spaces are created.
At the Ministry, we will be working more closely with early childhood centre providers to identify and implement ideas to enhance the programmes being offered, whilst supporting the universal implementation of developmentally appropriate practices.
We are collaborating with the Institute of Education at the H. L. Stoutt Community College to provide on-going training and continuous professional development for early childhood practitioners, a practice supported by the National Association for the Education of Young Children.
As we embark on Early Childhood Awareness Week 2023, I urge the community to get involved, as we collectively move Early Childhood Education, full steam ahead.
During this week’s activities several activities have been planned. On today, Monday Open houses are taking place around the territory at early childhood centres and classrooms in primary schools. Take the time to visit one near you. A LIVE panel discussion will be held on Tomorrow, Tuesday, 23rd at 2:00 p.m. on the Government’s Facebook page.
On Wednesday, 24th, and Thursday, 25th professional development sessions will be held for teachers and practitioners working in early childhood.
On Friday, 26th the annual Preschool Games held in collaboration with VI Sports for Life will be held at the Multi-Purpose Sports Complex from 9am. to 1pm.
An opportunity for fun, relaxation, and networking among practitioners is planned for Saturday, 27th.
For more information on any of these activities please contact Ms. Genevieve McMaster, our Early Childhood Officer in the Ministry of Education via telephone number 468-2757.
It is my pleasure and privilege to declare Early Childhood Awareness Week 2023 open.