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Mrs. Kate Marnoch (left) and Mrs. Marjorie Beckles (right).

Published 14th July 2006, 11:44am

Cayman’s first Early Childhood Unit has been formed by the Ministry of Education, Training, Employment, Youth, Sports & Culture, to address the educational and welfare needs of young children across the islands.

Its formation marks the government’s commitment to strategy 3 of the 10 strategies identified as critical to improve Cayman’s education system, following last year’s Ministry led education conference. This strategy provides for ‘the development of an Early Years unit to set standards, evaluate performance and support improvements in day-care centres, pre-schools and Reception programmes.’

The Minister of Education, Honourable Alden McLaughlin, JP, expressed his delight at the recent commencement of the unit’s operations, commenting “The opening of the Early Childhood Unit is an encouraging step for us as it ushers in a new era in the provision of care and education for our youngest, and also signifies that the government’s reform of education is steadily gathering momentum and starting to yield tangible results.” He added, “Our objectives for education are varied and ambitious, but as we move our strategies from their intensive planning phases into implementation phases over the coming weeks, I anticipate that we will see more similar examples of our efforts bearing fruit”.

The unit is tasked with developing national standards on the provision and outcomes of childcare settings and early childhood education in general. It will ensure that all facilities operate within the law, following Education Council Guidelines, and maintain high standards of care and education.

The Early Childhood Unit (ECU) is headed-up by Mrs. Kate Marnoch, a schools’ Inspector from the UK who specialises in early education. Mrs. Marnoch is also an experienced primary school teacher and a devoted parent, and was Senior Education Adviser in the UK and a national trainer for the ‘Foundation Stage Curriculum’ and the ‘Birth to Three Matters Framework’, which guides all British pre-schools, day nurseries and reception classes.

Working closely with Mrs. Marnoch to realize the development programme will be Mrs. Marjorie Beckles, a Caymanian Education Officer of 17 years experience in the national system, specializing in the provision of ‘early years’ care and services. Mrs. Beckles will join the ECU on September 1st.

Mrs. Marnoch explained that the Early Years Unit will work alongside preschool operators, owners and staff to ensure that national standards are developed, understood and implemented. She said, “We will positively affect the initial learning experience for all children, from birth to five-years-old, during these important foundation years. This will bring lasting positive rewards throughout their school years, and their entire lives. As a result, their parents, families and communities will also benefit.”

The unit’s plans include a self-evaluation model as well as an inspection programme. A handbook will be developed for ‘early years’ staff and inspectors, concurrent with annual inspections and reports on the local status of early childhood education. The unit will see that qualified staff are on hand, who possess expertise in child development and a clear understanding of how young children grow and learn.

The Early Childhood Unit seeks to ensure that young children will have opportunities to play, explore, discover, experiment, problem-solve, make friendships and develop self-confidence in safe, secure and stimulating environments. It will be looking at the basic provision of clean, hygienic facilities with good water and nutritious food as well as shaded space for toddlers to run, climb and explore.

For more information on the Early Childhood Unit, please contact Mrs. Kate Marnoch at 945 – 7635, fax 945 6309, or e-mail:

An interview with the new Early Childhood Unit head, Mrs. Kate Marnoch

In the following interview with GIS Information Officer Lennon Christian, the new Early Childhood Unit head, Mrs. Kate Marnoch, offers insight into the world of early childhood education.

She is a parent, an experienced primary school teacher, and a school inspector specialising in early education.

Mrs. Marnoch was Senior Education Adviser in the UK and a national trainer for the ‘Foundation Stage Curriculum’ and the ‘Birth to Three Matters Framework’ which guides all British pre-schools, day nurseries and reception classes.

Q. Why is an early learning environment important?
A. Parents and society want children who can read, use numbers, and who have positive attitudes to learning, can problem-solve, work co-operatively and independently, and who can grow to fulfil their academic, physical, moral and social potential. The very early years of a child’s life are where all these important foundations are laid.

A society, such as Cayman’s that has identified its priorities, and values its young children, can offer support to families, and in so doing help create a society worth living in. The old Jesuit saying ‘give me the child until he is seven, and I will give you the man,’ is as true today as when it was written.

Research has shown that children who spend time in a high-quality pre-school before they start primary school hold a strong advantage in terms of literacy, numeracy and social skills. They know how to share, co-operate, listen and follow instructions; they settle into school life easily and quickly so teachers can focus on the vital job of educating them.

Q. What exactly is the new Early Childhood Unit?
A. This is a new government office staffed by Early Childhood Development Officers, which will specialise in enhancing the services of these early education providers. An early years task group comprising pre-school owners, school principals, education officers, early intervention teachers and schools’ inspectors oversaw the unit’s development and made valuable contributions as to the role that the Unit will fulfil.

This Unit will be managed by me [Mrs. Marnoch], and will initially have four development officers. We will work alongside preschool operators, owners and staff to ensure that national standards are developed, understood and implemented.

In addition to providing curriculum advice and conducting inspections, the unit will offer training to early years staff on topics such as child development, early writing skills, and early mathematical development, plus personal, social and emotional development. And as most of our 3-5 year-olds attend government and private schools, the Early Childhood Unit will work closely with the Schools’ Inspectorate, and our staff will work alongside theirs on school inspections. The Unit will report directly to the Education Ministry.

Q. Who will be affected?
A. We hope to positively affect the initial learning experience for all children, from birth to five-years-old, during these important foundation years. This should have lasting positive rewards throughout their school years, and their entire lives. As a result, their parents, families and communities should also benefit.

This should also positively impact on all facilities which provide services to young children. These include private pre-schools and nurseries, as well as registered child minders--those who care for other people’s babies and young children in their own homes, for payment. Babies often need more attention than a day nursery can give them, so many parents choose to leave their little ones with a child minder, who may also be a family friend. If an individual is receiving financial remuneration for taking care of children then they too will be expected to follow standards regarding health and safety and governing the number of babies any one person can care for.

Unit staff will work closely with the Cayman Islands Early Childhood Association (ECA), attending meetings and disseminating good practice. The Unit is also supporting the ECA in lobbying for day care and pre-school staff to be exempt from the seven-year roll over policy -- as are government school teachers. Good early-years personnel are hard to come by and many families use the same day care for years, for their different children and are quite upset at the thought of certain staff members being sent away. Day nursery and pre-school owners are also concerned that they may not be able to replace quality staff and that the level of care and education young children receive may suffer.

There are 21 facilities which have to be registered – as well as nine early-childhood facilities in formal schools. Especially affected will be those enrolled in the pre-kindergarten, kindergarten, and private schools’ pre-school programmes. Also affected will be the children enrolled in the Reception years of those government schools which offer such services (i.e. primary schools in East End, North Side and Cayman Brac).

For the first time, workers and clients will know the exact standards that government requires. But this is not just about imposing new rules and regulations; more importantly, the schools will also be supported in meeting these standards. The Unit will always strive to develop good relationships with them, and we envisage that most managers/owners will happily meet the new standards and regulations. They will be encouraged to model good practices, and will be given free or low-cost subsidized training after school is over.

Q. Why was this Unit formed?
A. This new office was developed as a direct response to parental concerns and to the needs identified in the National Education Conference and the resultant ‘National Consensus on the Future of Education in the Cayman Islands’ document. In fact, this area of education takes high priority in the views of the population, and is the third strategy outlined to benefit education overall.

It’s largely about safeguarding young children – to reassure their parents that they are in a safe and secure learning environment. It also designed to ensure access of this service for all children in the Cayman Islands, regardless of where they live.

This is also an exercise in cost-efficiencies, for government has subsidised pre-school fees for many hundreds of families for several years now, and needs assurance that funds are spent wisely to enhance children’s lives and maximise their learning opportunities. Similarly, parents want reassurance that the nurseries and pre-schools where they leave their babies and young children are not just babysitting, but are helping with their cognitive development.

Q. Why is this level of teaching important to infants?
A. The Early Childhood Unit will deal with all aspects of education and care for children 0-5 years. Young children will have opportunities to play, explore, discover, experiment, problem-solve, make friendships and develop self-confidence in safe, secure and stimulating environments.

All children should receive the opportunity to experience the best possible start to their education. We need to ensure that our children enter school having established solid foundations upon which they can build. This will help them continue to flourish throughout their school years and beyond.

Some infants are sent to care from the age of six weeks. Babies and young children especially need well-trained staff with good knowledge of child development to provide the right environment.

It is not mandatory to send children to an educational facility before they reach the age of four years and nine months. However, a wealth of existing research shows that if young children socialize in groups prior to going to formal school, they are better equipped to share, learn, and cooperate in a stimulating environment. Scientific data also shows that the ages from birth to five years is the period of the most rapid brain growth – which therefore determines potential.

Babies and young children are in some pre-schools and day nurseries for up to 10 hours daily, five days a week. It is therefore important that adults who work with them are kind, compassionate and provide the right balance of care and stimulation to help them grow and develop. Parents also need reassurance that when they take their little ones to an early childhood setting, that they will be happy, safe and having fun – and learning at the same time. The Unit’s job is to ensure that all of that happens!

Q. What will this Unit’s enforcement power be?
A. Currently, legislation for such matters falls with two government departments: Education, and Children and Family Services. The Early Childhood Unit will work closely with both these departments to effectively safeguard the welfare of babies and young children. However, the new Early Childhood Unit will also need to have delegated legal authority in these matters.

There may be occasions when people are reluctant to comply with required standards. For example, they may be required to add additional restrooms or fence-in the yards or play areas. The Unit will need to have the necessary authority to require that these actions be completed within an appropriate timeframe, and to offer support to implement the changes. If a situation ever arose where a school setting does not comply with these regulations, the school may be de-registered and lose its business license.

Also, if our background checks on staff reveal certain individuals who are not suitable to work with young children, then the unit will inform the school not to employ them While this type of scenario is infrequent, there have been such instances in the past -- for instance, one staff member of a pre-school was the subject of a police investigation, yet moved on to work in another pre-school.

Q. How will the regulations be developed?
A. These are now in the early stages of being drafted. The process will include public consultation, and the document should be completed before the end of 2006.

These guidelines will provide clear guidelines and standards, and will be backed by legislation. They will determine issues from staff-student ratios to the quality of toys used at play, plus basic things like the provision of safe and secluded outdoor play areas.

We will work closely with all stakeholders to develop national standards that will apply to early childhood care and education settings in the Cayman Islands. This will range from the child’s physical environment to the quality of care received.

The Unit will also ensure that the curriculum for our youngest children is based on how we know young children naturally learn -- which is through active hands-on play. For instance, young children can develop hand-eye co-ordination, so necessary for later writing skills, through simple, fun activities such as pouring water from jugs into different sized containers.

They can also learn to count and reason in simple ways, such as by playing with toy animals and sorting them into different fields. Children learn to share in basic ways, and learn to read by first looking at picture books and having stories read to them daily.

Q. What local specialist knowledge will the unit possess?
A. We are very fortunate to have the skills and expertise of Mrs. Marjorie Beckles, who will be joining the unit in September as a Senior Development Worker. Mrs. Beckles has been working with the Education Department for many years supporting pre-schools, organising training for early childhood practitioners and monitoring the quality of provision within pre-schools both in Grand Cayman and Cayman Brac.

Mrs. Beckles has a wealth of knowledge about provision for pre-school children, and she supported many pre-schools as they struggled to re-open after Hurricane Ivan. Mrs. Beckles is a well respected and well liked member of the community, both locally and internationally. Her interest in children's welfare is not limited to under 5's, as a girl in Grand Cayman, Mrs. Beckles was a member of the Girls Brigade and now she is the Chairman of the Cayman Council of the Girls Brigade and represents the Cayman Islands at international events.

We are indeed fortunate to have someone of Mrs. Beckles calibre joining us and I look forward to the valuable contributions she will have to offer to support the work of the unit.