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By Leon Norville

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The owner of a local early childhood education facility is calling on the authorities to give consideration to the sector’s plight months into the Covid-19 pandemic.

Sheen Roberts, of Sprout Angels Learning Center, said it has been an extremely difficult period to navigate, not only for herself but also for other early education facilities across the country.

Roberts, who spoke candidly, said she was surprised at last week’s decision to only have students preparing for exams return to face-to-face instruction on April 12.

Roberts explained that following the announcement she reached out to officials within the Early Childhood Unit to find out what exactly was being done to have early childhood facilities reopened. She said she was told that they should continue with online learning instruction until further advised.

Roberts said the online learning system is particularly challenging with young children as they are not as engaged and ready to learn as when in the normal face-to-face setting.

She said, “Online learning is not going to be key for them.” She explained that the main issues faced by teachers included a lack of participation from students and parents giving up.

“The children are suffering,” she said.

Another issue Roberts spoke about was the fact that the Education Ministry mandated that early childhood education facilities be outfitted with the necessary health and safety measures to ensure both teachers and students are operating in a safe space.

She said she had spent a lot of money redesigning her learning spaces and she did not understand why she was being forced to remain closed.

Meanwhile, Roberts said, bills are piling up, rent and mortgages need to be paid, teachers need to be paid and there is no money coming in. Last year alone her learning facility was closed for over seven months.

Education Director Clare Browne told Observer that while he does understand the genuine concern of early childhood centre operators, he is guided by experts within the Health Ministry on when schools can safely be reopened. He said the country’s epidemiological situation can still present a risk for people, especially adults, in a school setting.

Browne said that although there has been minimal to no Covid-19 cases involving young children, there is a risk that they can be asymptomatic and spread the virus to vulnerable adults around them, including teachers and older family members within the home.

Specifically addressing the reasoning behind the resumption of classes on April 12, he said even though the risk is there as the country currently has over 200 active Covid-19 cases, “we are taking a chance because these students have to face an exam in short order in June of this year”.

Regarding the general concerns of Roberts and other early childhood centre operators, he said if preschoolers miss a term of early stimulation they can rebound. He also said he understands the need for these institutions to make money, but “it cannot be at the expense of anyone’s health. Until we get permission from the Ministry of Health for all schools to reopen, it will not happen. It cannot happen.”

The Education Director did reveal there will be a special consultation later today with the Education Ministry’s early childhood development unit at 3pm via Zoom.

The aim, he said, is to meet with early childhood facility owners to provide them with tips on how to engage their students with online learning among other things. He said this will also be an opportunity to hear their concerns as the ministry is concerned about what they may be facing in these unprecedented times.