Why Early Childhood Education is the key to “Ward-Off” Adolescent Criminal Actions

When the Commissioner of police announced that 875 crimes were committed by children between the ages of 15 and 17 between 2019 and 2022, and the makeup of these crimes are murders, shootings, rapes, break-ins, robberies, and aggravated assaults, the act of collecting and reporting these statistics is TOO LATE. When the National Parenting Supporting Commission (NPSC) recognizes that 92% of parents in our country don’t know how to communicate with children effectively, this recognition is TOO LATE. Further, When the general public only recently recognized that children learn primarily by observing, listening, and modeling behavior and that those learnings can mainly be bad for children and the future of our country, it’s TOO LATE. Finally, when the Prime Minister announced that Jamaica needs a compulsory national service system to “ward off” youth from turning to criminal activities, he too was TOO LATE in his thinking. These are the stories in the news announced by leaders in the past week. The work should have started from the early childhood years of the children.

The question is, do you now see why STAISTA ranks Jamaica as the 2nd most dangerous country in the world in 2022 with 43.85 murders in every 100,000 inhabitants? Jamaica ranks second to El Salvador at 52.02. Based on the announcement of the Commissioner of Police, young children are emerging criminals, and indications are that efforts are inadequate in resolving the issue in the early years of the children. Most say that factors attributable to increased crime have remained unchanged for as long as life existed; politics, drugs, peer pressure, poverty, the unfair justice system, unequal rights, unemployment, socioeconomic background, and even religion.

A closer look at all these factors reveals that the criminals’ identity is based on people making rational choices when deciding whether to commit a crime. They are already young adults. As a reminder, however, poverty doesn’t make a man a criminal. A person chooses between good and bad when they make a criminal decision. They commit a crime all by themselves. Similarly, people don’t steal just because they have not worked for years. Situations arise; they review the situation’s cost and benefit and decide to commit a crime because that action has more benefits than good. It’s the same for all the crime-related factors listed above.

However, in reasoning and rationalizing, one must first know about right and wrong, good from evil, be exposed to parents who instill values and possess extra exposure to help them make sound judgments. If, early in their lives, they are exposed only to crime and deviance through listening, observing, and modeling, their decisions are limited to only what they learned. Lawful choices, then, should not be expected of them; because we can’t squeeze milk out of coffee. Parents, family, teachers, and community should help to shape the child.

Children are not born criminals. We already know that. Cesare Lombroso’s (early criminologist) theory of the criminal man in 1876 had been shot down and put to sleep; we no longer believe that criminality is inherited and people were born criminals. We also don’t think that the size of our heads, lips, and skin color make anyone a criminal. Instead, criminality is a learned behavior. There is an opportunity to teach the youth.

That said, just as we learn to read, write, infer, reason, and develop good behavior, a young child is susceptible to learning criminality. The child needs only a model willing (gang members or leaders) to teach them. The young child learns antisocial and criminal behavior just like the child who learns lawful (good) behavior. The best time to prepare for good or bad behavior is early childhood. Therefore, gang leaders can easily shape a child (who does not have proper guidance) into criminality. If “all children” are not fully engaged productively, the door is open for anyone to train them.

Parents have a significant role in grooming a child. If parents engage in criminality, expose the child to adverse behavior that appears normal.

Now that we have set the stage, we can look at Jamaica’s early childhood system to see how children are cared for and prepared for life. Here are some facts. It is best to start with the overall plans. The Ministry of education promised Jamaican children:

  • To maximize parental involvement in the lives of the children and minimize the number of at-risk children and youth.
    To maximize the percentage of Jamaican children and youth who have access to and /or attachment to quality care, stimulation, education, and/or training (0–29 years)
  • To maximize the number of children who live in a safe, secure, and healthy state care environment.
  • To maximize access to official records, provide information and digital literacy.
  • To maximize the performance of students.
  • To maximize the percentage of Jamaican education programs and institutions that meet prescribed quality standards.
  • After a review of the promises above, there is a sense that the language might not be inclusive. The term “to maximize” seem to allow some leeway and could relax the responsibility of the Ministry of Education to every child. The preferable language would be that “all children”, be identified, secured, and in school, no matter where they are from, are actively being prepared for their future. The language is different from the Ministry’s slogan “Every child can learn, Every child must learn.”
  • In February this year, the Governor General announced that 2022 is designated early childhood development. This is a great move to highlight the importance of early childhood development and give focus to stakeholders to invest more in the sector. Here is the opportunity for the government to lead the charge in developing the sector.

Some details about the early childhood system in Jamaica.
There are approximately 3000 early childhood institutions in the country. More than 2700 are basic (privately held schools), and 300 infant schools are government-operated.

The government of Jamaica primarily spends less on the most important sector of education; early childhood development. Most adult Jamaicans attended basic schools. Both basic and infant schools are governed by the Early Childhood Commission, which reports to the Ministry of Education. The Commission has certified approximately 300 infant schools (converted from basic schools). Certification means that the 12 standards set by the Commission have been met, and the government’s infant school program will absorb basic schools to become a full government institution. Basic and infant schools, including daycare facilities, host children from 0–5 1/2. Afterward, they enroll in primary school education, beginning with grade one.

Research findings in the early childhood sector.
According to the SABER ECD Country report, children 3–6 who receive social activities, educational concepts, and creative skills are better prepared for primary and secondary school. Children 0 to 3 who are stimulated get brain builder exercises and are likely to perform better from age 3–6 at the basic and infant schools.

The SABER report further states that the Challenges in the early childhood sector are grave:

  • The governing body focuses on the pre-primary school for children ages 3–6, but early learning opportunities are not as easily available for children in the 0–3 age group. This means there is a gap that brain builder activities must fill.
  • Quality assurance measures have been enhanced recently, but compliance with standards could still be improved. There are still 2700 schools that are not operating to the standards set by the Commission.
  • The governing bodies declare that every child has a right to publicly funded tuition at pre-primary and primary levels, yet, only 10% of the schools are funded; 2700 basic schools are not publicly funded and not free.
  • No national law establishes a minimum level of public funding for ECD services. Currently, financing for ECD takes place with a relatively voluntary nature.
  • No official mechanisms exist to ensure sustainable investments of ECD in Jamaica.
  • The GoJ pays 4,000 early childhood practitioners a salary subsidy determined by qualifications and experience, which ranges from JA$177,600 to JA$307,743 per year.
  • Teachers in Basic Schools are supposed to be paid on the same salary scale based on their training qualifications, but most are not adequately compensated. In addition to the government salary subsidies, teachers from Basic Schools rely on compensation from school fees. Unfortunately, in Basic Schools, parents do not always pay the fees, so teachers’ salaries are often inadequate.

The gaps in early childhood education are significant. Inner-city children at this level are at risk of failing at the next levels. Worst, they are learning of the “benefits of deviance and violence” They are not busy building strong education standards; therefore, they learn unlawful behavior that creeps in as a normative lifestyle. That’s possible because they :

  • listen to adults disrespecting each other and adopts the behavior
  • witness fights and physical abuse of one spouse by the other
  • observe bus and taxi drivers breaking the law with impunity,
  • listen and respond to lewd music
  • watch television programs with violence with explicit sexual activity scenes.
  • experiencing the breakdown of morals, lawlessness, and accepting it as normal behavior. How, then, do we expect children to act lawful when they are older (15–17 years old)?

To erect solid homes or commercial buildings, the foundation is the first and most essential part of structures. The foundation holds the building together from wind, rain, and elements. If the home is burnt to the ground, the foundation is always intact to rebuild from. In education, governments spend more funding and effort at the upper level of education, primary and secondary, and tertiary, then forget the foundation that needs to set our children’s future right. Early childhood is the foundation of education; adequate funding is required to lay a proper foundation.

Learning criminality and normal behavior occurs in the same manner; cognitively, socially, emotionally, and environmentally. If socioeconomic conditions contribute to deviance and antisocial behavior, gaps in education exist, and a child is without structured interventions. Of course, the door is wide open for children to learn criminality early from anyone, anywhere. Criminologist Terrie Moffit’s theory is used around the world. It states that a life-course persistent’ criminal and antisocial behavior onsets early in life, and the young baby or child becomes a life-long offender.

Social learning is one of the most significant impacts on a persistent criminal’s life course. In Jamaica, if they are not learning in a structured education situation that keeps them busy early, another deviant individual will likely teach them the skills of criminality through social or environmental means. The best time to learn anything is at the early childhood level. A child will repeat what they learn. Early stimulation requires government intervention. In many other countries, teachers with advanced degrees instruct these little citizens to lay the foundation right. The government should take heed if Jamaica wants to be the first-world country it proposes in its Vision 2030 plan.

This article uncovers a wide gaping hole in early childhood where criminality starts. There is a saying; “you watch the pipe when the bung a leak.” The focus should be on educating and instilling the right attitude early to prevent or “ward off” criminality in later years. Why is there an effective top-down rather than a bottom-up approach to fighting crime and educating the nation? The core and foundation of any plan need strengthening and support first; then, the top will fall in place. The government spends less at the point that needs it more (early education) and heavily funding the area that needs it less (primary to tertiary). Preparing young children through education and early stimulation is one way to solve the high crime rate for this country’s future. The government must recognize this.

Here are some recommendations for the crime problem that are recommended. An excellent police force must be in the middle of the plan to stabilize crime and maintain law and order. However, the law must be reasonable, fair, and impartial.
Education is key, especially at the early childhood level.

Employ long-term solutions alongside short-term ones in education. For example, plan a 20-year strategy for early childhood children so that when they are 25, they are preparing to lead the country.

    1. Spend more money on foundational education (early childhood)
    2. Train more early childhood and special education teachers and deploy them at the early childhood institutions.
    3. Grandfathers-in basic schools and upskill staff, and invest in more infant schools.
    4. Standardize teaching-learning at the ECE level, as we do at the primary and secondary are standardized.
    5. Standardizing ECE keeps children 0–3 with standardized Brian builders and builds a curriculum with a standard book list for 3–6 years old to play, listen, share, and group learning.
    6. Take the guessing and trial and error of ECE.
    7. Digitize learning at ECE. Our youth are more advanced in technology than we think. They also are fast learners.
    8. While upskilling current practitioners, infuse the classroom with certified teachers.
    9. Pay better salaries for ECE teachers because they are preparing our country for the future.
    10. Empower parents to participate in education and be accountable for their children’s attendance.

Education is the key to solving the root cause of crime. Police can reduce crime, but all officers and leaders must buy into a plan to reduce crime. Policymakers must make policies for the police to execute. Police officers enforce according to the procedures. Early stimulation and education are a necessity to ward off later criminality. The Ministry of education, parents, and teachers is the key triangular relationship needed to shape a child. Let us do it.

Photo by Tamarcus Brown on Unsplash