Building Jamaica, one little brain at a time

When Marcia Demontagnac-Ormsby enrolled at Tranquility Bay Infant School in rural Portland – where she is now acting Principal – she was just shy of four years old. That’s when many Jamaican children traditionally enter basic school. However, according to science and what we now know about the development of a child’s brain, that can be too late.

If that seems strange, let’s consider why. Research has shown that that more than 80 per cent of a child’s brain is formed by the age of three. Science also tells us that good, simple practices – like encouraging healthy eating, engaging in lots of play and of course showing tons of love – are critical for stimulating brain development in the earliest years of a child’s life.

That’s why the Early Childhood Commission (ECC) is currently setting up 126 “Brain Builder Centres”. The Government will provide direct funding to day-cares that are to provide high quality stimulation for children 0 to 36 months until they are ready to move into pre-primary institutions at age 4 and the primary school system at age 6.

“Brain Builder Centres” to reach children 0-3

These centres will serve over 3,000 children islandwide, two centres in each constituency. The goal is to reach children at a younger age, and also to reduce educational inequality by providing children in lower income communities with access to early childhood institutions at a reduced cost.

The centres will enhance an existing network of 320 daycare centres overseen by the ECC and are part of a the national 0-3 Strategy intended to improve early stimulation and better prepare children to start primary level education.

“We want them to be stimulated at an earlier age and to be safe, especially when parents have to go back to work early,” explains Tanisha Miller, ECC Community Relations Manager. “For example, we are looking at whether the centres can take babies and ensure their safety and inclusion for families who might otherwise not be able to afford it.”

Early stimulation for lifelong impact

Miller projects that 30 of the centres should be up and running by the end of this year, with the rest to start operating by the end of 2019. As part of the implementation, centres will receive training, daycare kits, parenting workshops and of course inspections.

In the late 1980’s the pioneering “Jamaica Study” researched disadvantaged children who suffered from stunted development with quality early stimulation. Researchers who followed up with those children in their adulthood found that they are now earning 25 per cent more than similarly stunted children who did not receive such stimulation.

These results give us an idea of the transformative impact that early stimulation can have on child development, educational inequalities and ultimately a country’s economy. They remind us why the efforts at Tranquility Primary and Infant School and all the other “brain builder” centres are so vital.

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