The Jamaican Early Childhood Curriculum was recently crafted. The curriculum is built on the principle that children learn best when content from various disciplines along with skills from the developmental domains are in line with the children's holistic view and experience of the world. The curriculum therefore considers learning through play, sequenced learning, individual learning, the practitioners' multiple roles, and inclusion of all learners and the domains of development, the learning environment, proper assessment, the role of parents and the role of community (Davies, 2008).
While the curriculum addresses various objectives that need to be met in fostering Early Childhood learning and outlines the requisite instructions, there are challenges to the implementation of the curriculum. Broadly speaking, these factors are usually internal and external. These factors reduce the effectiveness of the curriculum and weaken the chance of effective learning at the Early Childhood Level. The factors drive a mismatch between the situation that the curriculum was designed to target and the reality. This difference causes the actual learning outcome to deviate from the intended learning outcome. The curriculum is based on an assumption that the student is operating at a particular level, the student's parent and environmental background offer a certain level of support, and the teacher operates at a certain level. It is fair to believe that this is normally the case. However, curriculum implementation breaks down whenever these assumptions do not hold.
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In my view, the internal factors may be best represented by teachers, students, school infrastructure and resources. Teachers are given the primary responsibility to implement the curriculum. A teacher's creativity, capabilities and qualification enables him/her to transfer the content of the curriculum in a meaningful way that will connect with the diverse groups of learners. According to Jalongo and Isenberg (2012) a teacher's knowledge of the children and the content of the curriculum will enable him/her to possess the ability to provide for the children's strengths and weakness. The capable teacher will be able to facilitate the child's interest and to develop the knowledge, skills, values, and dispositions they will need to become productive members of the society. Jalongo and Isenberg (2012) posit that the teacher strategies and plan for learning is the thread that weaves the curriculum. They refer to this as the "what of teaching", and the "how of teaching". It's therefore, imperative that teachers plan for the students' learning in order to cater for the diverse learning styles in their classroom.
The methodologies that the teacher employs should fit the student's ability to gain knowledge and develop the necessary skills. Also, the teacher should be competent and acquire keen insights on the capabilities that children possess in order to cater for holistic development. If this is not achieved, then the implementation of the curriculum would have failed.
A key ingredient for the successful implementation of any curriculum is a keen understanding of the learner. Jalongo and Isenberg (2012) posit that a curriculum should focus on what a child knows and can do and what a child should know and can do. Hence the content of the curriculum should take into account the needs, interest, age and stage of development and the social and cultural context of the child. The child as the learner possesses the ultimate success of the curriculum. This takes into account the abilities, skills, background knowledge and exposure /experience that the child acquires before entering the learning environment. According to Puckett and Diffily (2004) being aware of the differences in children's development, strengths and challenges will allow curriculum planners and teachers to plan effectively in order to meet each child's developmental needs. Jalongo and Isenberg (2012) stated that a curriculum should consider the following; Child development and learning, Child needs, abilities and interest as well as their socio cultural context in which they live. I strongly believe that these factors will enable the teachers to perform effectively within the teaching and learning environment.
The school infrastructure and resources play a vital role in the delivery of the school's curriculum. It is my observation that the size of the student population relative to the size and quality of the physical accommodation of a school impacts the quality of curriculum implementation. According to Krogh and Morehouse (2008) the environment outside the classroom should be rich with potential and becomes a valuable multiuse arena. They also indicate that the physical environment plays an integral and vital part in supporting practices that encourage high levels of child initiated engagement and exploration. It is my view that the environment plays a key role in stimulating the cognitive processes required for effective curriculum implementation.
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I believe that the infrastructure of a school attracts a particular socio economic class from within the community. As a result, this will determine the quality of students and teachers who are enrolled in and employed to the school. It also establishes the quality of curriculum implementation that will occur. This will drive the resources that these schools are provided with. Greater resources mean that the school is able to properly finance the required staffing and infrastructure improvements that facilitate the learning process.
My school is located in the rural area of St. Andrew and its serves children from low socio economic backgrounds. Therefore, the implementation of the curriculum faces barriers as the students are unable to relate to the information, the teachers have limited educational training and the resources are limited to meet the needs of the students. This poses a challenge for the curriculum to be fully implemented and for the required learning outcomes to be obtained.
In my view, external factors usually include parents, home and community. I believe that these factors are crucial to the implementation of the curriculum. Parental involvement is a key determinant to successful academic achievement. This sets the foundation of the learning attitude that children carry to the learning environment. Support from parents increases the academic achievement in later years. Burke (2010) postulates that a child whose parents are passionately active and involved in their education at an early has a distinct advantage when compared to his/her peers. I believe that the involvement of parents facilitates the child's willingness to appreciate the importance of a solid education. This involvement can break or build the implementation of any curriculum. In my opinion, parents are generally unaware of the powerful effect that they have on what and how the content of a curriculum is designed and implemented. I believe that parents are an essential part of resource building. Strong parent teacher associations (PTAs) and effective parental involvement in school administration goes a far way in strengthening fund raising activities and in acquiring external support in building the school infrastructure.
I strongly believe that parents are the first line of support for all children. They are the primary source of socialization and set the foundation for formal learning to take place. The home is the initial environment for optimal nurturing and it ideally creates a sense of belonging. In integrating parental role in curriculum implementation, a "one-size fits all" approach cannot be taken. We have to take into consideration the socio economic status of these parents as well as their educational background. The background of these parents, especially in rural environs, allows for limitation on the input they can offer to the implementation of the curriculum. Hence, little or no involvement occurs and the inability to hold teachers accountable for poor curriculum implementation becomes a major issue. Burke (2010) states that when parents are involved in the educational process of their children, they will be able to include or add additional information and insight from their own personal experiences to teachers in order to support their child's learning and development.
Community is seen as the secondary source of socialization. When we examine a community, we need to take into account the structure, culture and socio economic factors that shape the community. Couchenour and Chrisman (2011) stated that when the cultural background of the community does not match the cultural and educational context of a school then the academic achievement will be affected. This, I believe, is crucial in the implementation of the curriculum. In my opinion, the cultural background of the students and the parents may prevent a school from attaining a targeted culture. The interrelatedness of the school and the community greatly impacts the achievement of the objectives of the curriculum. Rural communities are largely comprised of farmers and unemployed individuals who sparingly acquire secondary education. Urie Brofenbrenner's bioecological theory explains that understanding a child's development requires us to view the child in his socio culture context that includes family setting, community and the wider society (as cited in Couchenour and Chrisman, 2011). It is my view that the community plays a vital role in shaping the culture of the school. Depending on the socio economic, culture, structure and educational factors the implementation of the curriculum will be extensively affected.
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In conclusion, many factors affectÂ curriculumÂ implementation. It is my view that internal factors such as teachers, students, school infrastructure and resources and external factors such as parents, home and community are vital factors that may pose positive and negative effects on the implementation of the curriculum. At the early childhood level, the content and objectives of the curriculum should be centred on the child's needs and interest. How we address their needs and interest is dependent on the instructional objectives carried out by the teacher, the availability of resources and the learning environment of the school. It is my view, therefore, that a curriculum customization is needed at the Early Childhood level in order to cater for the different internal and external factors indicated above. A customized blueprint will produce effective, critical and holistic thinkers within our community and wider society.