In our most recent series of blogs, we have focused on the impact of COVID-19 on the sector and some of the lessons learnt during the pandemic from our teachers, parents, principals, and staff members from the Early Childhood Commission. As we look forward to the future with schools set to restart in September and hopes abound for face-to-face schooling, we believe that planning to build back better ECD is essential. COVID-19 has highlighted the challenges within the sector and the many gaps that need to be closed. To ensure that our children have access to world-class early childhood education and care, it is vital that planning for the reopening of ECIs following the COVID-19 pandemic consider some key points.
Improve Teacher Training
High-quality teachers are essential to positive outcomes for children’s learning and development. Prior to COVID-19, there was a thrust to increase the number of highly trained teachers in the ECD sector. Post-pandemic, this has not changed; however, the pandemic has highlighted that in addition to what teachers already know about child development and teaching children at the early childhood level, they also need training and development in new teaching skills and technologies that were required to navigate the classrooms and supporting children’s education during the pandemic. Many teachers were not familiar with online learning platforms before the pandemic, and similarly, many would not have participated in teaching children of early childhood age remotely. Additionally, as the education sector prepares children for the 4th Industrial Revolution, knowledge and skills within the technological field will be important for teachers. As we plan for the future, improving teacher training in these new skills and technology is essential because by doing so, we can ensure that the teachers in the sector are prepared to take on the potential of further school closures due to COVID-19 and to support our children for life and learning in the digital future.
Tackling Learning Loss
School closures during the pandemic were to reduce the spread of the virus but this also meant that children’s learning was disrupted. Even with efforts to continue with remote learning, many children missed out. According to UNESCO Institute for Statistics, COVID-19 has resulted in the closure of schools in 188 countries affecting 1.5 billion students globally. Additionally, UNICEF reported that children in the pre/basic school age group had the lowest levels of engagement in distant/remote learning with only 75 per cent; while data from PIOJ noted that only 32% of students had daily access to the internet according to the National Education Council Report titled Effects of COVID-19 Pandemic on the Jamaican Education System. Additionally, reports coming out of the United States, noted that virtual schooling may have contributed to learning loss with more than half of public school teachers reporting significant loss both academically and socially. Considering all these factors, schools will have to be prepared to tackle the issue of learning loss and develop strategies to facilitate children’s learning whether they are learning face-to-face or remotely.
As we take stock of the school year that has just ended and we plan for the future, learning from our experiences and utilising available data will help us to train teachers and support children’s learning will improve the ECD sector and outcomes for children during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.