Fellow Dominicans, as the Honourable Minister for Education, Human Resource Planning, Vocational Training and National Excellence, I am indeed delighted about this, my first address to you in observance of Early Childhood Development Month, November 2020. Our theme chosen for the observance of this year’s celebration is “Embracing Opportunities for Early Childhood Development.”
The Collins dictionary describes an opportunity as a favourable combination of circumstances; a good chance or prospect.
So you may be asking, “What opportunities can there be for early childhood during such a worldwide pandemic?” Maybe it might just be paradoxical. It was the great Albert Einstein who told us that “In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.”
To begin with there is always the opportunity to celebrate our children; no matter the circumstance. We know that our children are gifts from God and a gift from God is a gift indeed. For that we need to always embrace the opportunity to say thank you to the almighty for our little children; the future women and men of tomorrow; the future human resource of our dearly beloved country.
We in the Ministry of Education are grateful for the opportunity to work more closely with you the families in educating our children. If there is one thing that has come to the fore during this present situation, is the realization that we need the total involvement of families in educating our little ones.
I am hoping that as families you would have noticed that active learning which is the approach for nurturing the minds of our children is not only for the classroom but very much for the home environment. What we do at school should always be continued at home and children should be given the opportunity to relive what they do at home. In other words, the school should go home and home should come to school.
As a result of this worldwide pandemic, we have had to change the way in which we offer early stimulation to our children in the Roving Caregivers programme. In the first model, the caregivers would go into the homes and do the stimulation activities with the children. With the new approach, we are now engaging the parents/guardians in doing the actual stimulation activities with the children.
What opportunities that this has presented to us. We now have a better platform for greater bonding between our children and their parents/guardians; we now have the opportunity to enhance the parenting skills of our parents/guardians as their attention can now go beyond that of generally caring for the physical needs and will now include the cognitive development of their children. This also presents us with a greater opportunity for sustaining the early stimulation programme. Once trained, families can now carry out their stimulation exercises independently with their children.
All early childhood educators as well as parents now have better opportunities for self-development. Because the situation is worldwide more training institutions have made it possible to access programmes in early childhood development. You do not have to be physically present at the institution; you can do so by following online.
There is now the opportunity for greater networking. Both parents and guardians as well as early childhood educators are have better opportunities to be in touch with others not only in their locality, but around the globe. There are countless numbers of forums for parents as well as forums for educators. We need to embrace these opportunities, because we also know that opportunities lost can not be regained.
To date there are over a thousand children enrolled in three different programmes. They are the Roving Caregivers Programme, the programmes at the day cares and the programmes at the preschools.
There are now twelve-day care centers and sixty-nine preschools registered with the Ministry of Education. It is important to note that, despite the challenges of the pandemic, my government continues to pay subvention ranging from one thousand five hundred dollars to two thousand, five hundred dollars to all registered early childhood facility on the island.
Generally, there are several activities planned in observance of Early Childhood Development Month. Given our present situation, we have been forced to change the way in which we normally celebrate; but we will still celebrate. We are therefore proposing that activities that would normally be held as districts be held at centre level and in the homes as in the case of the Roving Caregivers Programme.
Today, we expect to begin the month with our usual prayer services as we call upon the almighty God to bless the activities that we have planned for the month of November 2020. Rather than coming together as districts, these services are expected to be held as individual preschools or daycare centers.
The next major highlight is Health Week to be observed from November 9th to 13th. During that time, we recommend that children are exposed to positive ideas and given simple strategies that they can do to enhance their holistic development; strategies that go beyond what we have been promoting just for managing the pandemic. It is expected that these health tips will also be extended to the adults in the family as well as to all caregivers.
November 16th to the 20th is Family Focus Week. During this week we expect that families will be more involved with the early childhood programmes. As is customary we always take time to place emphasis on local food to inculcate in our children a love for our natural products. This year, the focus is on Spinach.
On Monday, November 16th, we expect, that families will provide their children with something made from spinach and we also ask that families engage the children as much as is possible in preparing these items. In the case of the daycares and the preschools, we are asking that families bring the various food items that have been made from spinach.
At the centers, as we display these items, we expect that our early childhood educators will embrace the opportunity to discuss the health benefits of spinach. Additionally, we recommend that the focus of activities at all centers will be on spinach. Let us get our children engaged in doing activities that revolve around spinach including preparing a spinach garden, no matter how small it may be.
Every year International Men’s Day is observed on November 19th. On that day we ask that males play a more active role in activities at the homes and/or at the centres. We invite men to showcase their talents; go in and read to the children, play a musical instrument, talk to them about your field of work. Let’s get creative with our children.
November 20th is Universal Children’s Day. We ask that a special effort is made to make each child feel special. While we may have activities as a group, we ask that we use this opportunity to give individual attention to every child especially those who may be vulnerable in one way or the other.
We will observe Community Outreach Week from November 23rd to the 30th. During this week, we ask that we get our children to give some attention to at least one person who is vulnerable; it may be an adult or a child. This is an opportunity to teach our children to care not only for self but also for others especially for those who are less fortunate than them. Of course, we need to do so while maintaining all our safety protocols.
The culminating activity for the month is career day which is to be observed on November 30th, giving children the opportunity to dress in outfits that portray careers of their choice.
At this time, I want to take the opportunity to thank you the early childhood educators and families for your tremendous support in providing early education, early stimulation for our children.
I also extend heartfelt thanks to all our partners who continue to collaborate with us in the Ministry of Education as we strive to enhance the early childhood sector. I extend sincere gratitude to the Maria Holder Memorial Trust for making it possible for us to have six new preschools on the island, namely, Belles, Concord, Roseau, Trafalgar, Warner, and Wotten Waven.
We extend special thanks to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) for providing the manipulatives for these new preschools, and for its unwavering support in continuously funding programmes in early childhood. We also extend heartfelt thanks to Hands Across the Sea for its recent donations of books to the preschools on the island and to all other organizations for their contributions in one way or the other.
As I conclude, I pray that God will richly bless all our children, families, caregivers, and teachers. I trust that we will have a blessed Early Childhood Month for November 2020 as we embrace all the possible opportunities that will present themselves to us. As I end this address to you, I now present you with our Early Childhood Anthem and pray that you listen to the request of our children. Thank you.