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Fewer children being enrolled in early childhood institutions

By Warren Bertram 

The Ministry of Education is reporting a steady decline in enrolment of children at early childhood institutions over the last three years.

This is outlined in a report submitted to Parliament's Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC) by the Ministry of Education.

The ministry disclosed that during the 2019/2020 academic year, there were more than 111,000 early childhood students enrolled.

By the 2020-2021 academic year, the figure declined to 92,709 children and for the 2021/2022 academic year, enrolment was at 83,356 children.

Executive Director of the Early Childhood Commission, Karlene DeGrasse-Deslandes, said the drop in enrolment is due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the extended closure of schools as a result. 

Now that schools are reopened, she said a census the Commission has been conducting this month should give a "more accurate" figure. 

Mrs DeGrasse-Deslandes, who was speaking at a PAAC meeting on Wednesday, said the ministry has set up a 'Brain Builder Centre' which provides instruction to children zero to three years and is paid for by the government.  

"So no longer you leave them at home with the aunt, the granny or whoever and whatever. They are now in formal spaces," she said. 

PAAC chairman Mikael Phillips lamented the challenges faced when children are not fully prepared for primary school, having missed out on quality instruction at the early childhood level. 

"No matter what we say about the birth rate, we still have less than 50 per cent attending these ECIs [early childhood institutions] or going to school any at all. So you’re still going to play catch up when you get to primary school, and then when they get to grade seven, some of them just reading at grade three [level]," he argued. 

He said focus should be placed on ensuring these children attend school.