Transition trouble

Principals of some early childhood institutions are worried that their graduating pupils will not be ready to make the transition to the primary level come September.

Paulette Cunningham, principal at Padmore Early Childhood Centre in St Andrew, told the Jamaica Observer that her greatest challenge in getting her pupils ready for the primary level is having them stay focused during online classes.

“Things are a little slow this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the virtual meetings. The children are not as disciplined in their attention span as they are not focused when they are at home.

“Instead of sitting for 10 or 15 minutes and focusing they’ll ask, ‘Miss, can I get some water? Miss, may I go to the bathroom?’ and some of them are in the couch, some are in the bed… all sorts of things. It is very different,” said Cunningham.

She argued that her young charges do not concentrate unless a parent is there sitting beside them to help them to be as disciplined as possible.

“Some are even left with big brothers and big sisters who are also doing virtual learning,” noted Cunningham.

She pointed out that with the online learning the children have not been able to interact with their peers and this will prove a further challenge when they transition to primary schools, “as their social skills have gone way through the door”.

According to Cunningham, having the students repeat their final year at the basic school level would be the best option.

“If it’s even to keep them for one term and then they go off in January, I would be able to take them to the finish line in their phonetic skills, writing skills and social skills,” said Cunningham.

But Paulette Watson, acting principal at Greendale Early Childhood Development Centre, does not support delaying the transition as she argued that having the students repeat would not be ideal.

“No, the basic school will not be able to accommodate them [if they] repeat, because we are going to need the space as there will be children moving on from class two to class three. Repeating would cause a serious issue,” argued Watson even as she admitted that some of her pupils are not ready for the next stage of education.

“Some are going off to primary school and have not been engaged since last September. They don’t have the devices and that is the greatest challenge. You would understand that they are going to be far behind, I know it is going to be a challenge for the primary school teachers,” said Watson while applauding the education ministry’s proposal to introduce an extra-lesson programme when full face-to-face classes resume.

In the meantime, acting principal at the Shady Grove Basic School Maxine Green noted that some of the parents face difficulties helping students with online learning.

“If the parents stay with them, the children will be able to understand [but] some of them cannot read — it’s sad to say… but we have to break down the [lessons] hoping that they will be able to understand, in order to help the children,” said Green as she also admitted that the transitioning process to primary schools will be a problem come September.

“The persons who are doing the [Jamaica School Readiness Assessment] do not understand that some of the children were not able to learn as much. They will be taking the best of the best and some are going to be left behind,” declared Green

When the Observer contacted the Early Childhood Commission about concerns raised by the principals, Communications Manager Monique Pryce pointed to the Scope and Sequence document outlined in the Jamaica Early Childhood Curriculum.

The document has six learning outcomes, which include effective communication and intellectual empowerment.

Pryce said while the Scope and Sequence document is used by early childhood practitioners to record the developmental skills of children, not all the learning outcomes might be achieved, considering the learning loss amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“ There is no doubt that the children in the early childhood centres were significantly impacted by COVID-19. Some of the objectives may not be met because online learning is not ideal for [younger] children, they learn through interaction and play,” said Pryce.

“Nonetheless, we will be able to review the information based on what early childhood practitioners have shared and we will be able to gather information from that,” added Pryce.

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