NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Some 1,500 preschool-aged students are set to receive vouchers to go to private schools, filling the gap from the lack of available space in public schools for three to five-year-olds.
Minister of Education Glenys Hanna-Martin announced the universal pre-primary education public-private partnership at a contract signing at the Ministry of Education on Thursday morning.
She said the partnership is critical in making sure that every child receives equal access to education, and meeting the United Nations’ 4.2 sustainable development goal.
“We believe the goal 4.2 that all of our children between those ages should have universal access to pre-primary school by 2030 that gives us seven years to achieve this objective, so as a government which has committed to public education we have to do some things […] do all that we can to create this access.”
Acting Director of Education, Dominique McCartney-Russell said that school administrators and classroom teachers in the country have noted the need for students to be equipped with foundational knowledge.
McCartney-Russell stressed the importance of preschool studies to prepare children for the first grade.
“We propose through the expansion of quality daycare childcare programs to increase preschool participation and foster developmental gains,” she said.
“Studies have actually shown that quality preschool enrolment has a positive correlation to university attendance, to SAT test taking, and to high school graduation.
“Students participation may also decrease the incidence of crime among our youth, so you see, preschool is important; and so, colleagues, our partnership with our private preschool operators is significant in this effort as we seek to accommodate students so that our government operated centers are not overcrowded,” she said.
Since its inception in 2018, the program has led to the distribution of 6,200 vouchers and engaged 118 private preschools in the country. Ten more preschools were added at Thursday’s signing which McCartney-Russell said will help more children enter the first grade with a ‘stronger foundation for learning.’
The program initially started with the distribution of 500 vouchers annually and the number has since been increased to 1500 according to Assistant Director of Education, Leja Burrows who explained that they are granted to parents of three and four-year-old children who would have applied to the Ministry of Education for their child to attend a government primary school.
“Where the government school is unable to accommodate them because of space or age, some government schools only accommodate four-year-olds so a three-year-old in that area, we would then give them a voucher to attend one of our approved partners.”
Burrows added that preschools must meet particular standards of legitimacy to qualify for a partnership with the Ministry of Education. Then parents, after a background inspection to assess qualification, would then be able to select one of the registered schools in their area of residence.
“We have 110 partners on the islands of New Providence, Grand Bahama, Andros, and Inagua […] the vouchers are (worth) $2,000 a year, they are to cover tuition and so we pay the school directly for the students, we assure that the students are attending the school and then we pay the school in two installments,” Burrows said.