Preschools closed in new push for standards

Two Cayman Islands preschools have been shut down as a result of new measures aimed at raising standards in early childhood care and education centers. 

Preschools are now required to follow a new national curriculum for young children and to meet guidelines on health and safety and student-teacher ratios in order to be registered by the Education Council. 

Of the 48 centers under the council’s remit, two did not have their registrations renewed under the new criteria. At least three others have been given a “notice of improvement,” requiring them to raise standards in specific areas to maintain their registration. 

Officials declined to name the centers that were shut down, saying new placements had been found for all the affected children. They say they are doing everything they can to work with preschools to help them meet the new registration requirements.  

Education Minister Tara Rivers said the registration guidelines, alongside the new national curriculum, are driving up standards and helping to achieve a cultural shift from child minding toward more substantive education. 

“We are not looking for 3-year-olds to be doing quantum physics, but we do want to ensure our children are getting age-appropriate developmental activities,” she said. 

The curriculum, produced with input from early childhood education centers, covers appropriate learning objectives and teaching methods for infants, toddlers and children under 5. 

Carol Bennett, policy adviser for early childhood care and education, said ministry staff were involved in training preschool owners and staff in delivering the new curriculum and fulfilling the necessary obligations under the new registration guidelines. 

This includes training on working with vulnerable young children, identifying the signs of abuse and their obligations under the Children Law to report suspicions of abuse. 

Ms. Bennett said the first year of the new regime had been the toughest for the preschools since many had to make changes to comply. 

“Some had too many children and not enough staff, some didn’t have fire safety up to date. They have had to catch up. 

“The most difficult period has passed. They have had to clean themselves up to meet these guidelines,” she said. 

Early childcare and education centers that don’t meet the registration criteria are given three months to make the necessary changes. If they are still not compliant, they get a cancellation notice, with a further three-month time limit before they are shut down. 

The curriculum, published this week and available to parents on the Ministry of Education website, has been in production for the last several years. It was piloted in 2012 and has been adapted and redrafted based on feedback from centers themselves. 

April Tibbetts, formerly a policy adviser and now acting head of West End Primary School in Cayman Brac, said the document harnessed information from the most effective early years education programs around the world, as well as input from local preschools. 

The curriculum is built around four key focus areas of respect, exploration, communication and well-being and is designed as a framework for anyone involved in teaching young children. 

Ms. Rivers said the curriculum is flexible enough to mesh with existing philosophies such as the Montessori preschool program. 

Education Minister Tara Rivers shows off the new curriculum. – PHOTO: JAMES WHITTAKER