In Ireland, the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) free pre-school year is set to open up equal education opportunities to children nationwide.
The scheme, which is to be rolled out from January 2010, will be available to all pre-schoolers in Ireland, born between 2 February 2005 to 30 June 2006 (exemptions are made for children with special needs).
This is a positive step towards educating the leaders of tomorrow.
In the words of The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Barry Andrews, ‘pre-primary education is a key determinant of student performance at all levels of education, as it leads to improvements in students’ skills levels, motivation and the propensity to learn, which raises the private and social returns from all future investments in their education’.
So far over 85% of preschools nationwide have applied for involvement in the ECCE scheme, which means over 90,000 preschoolers can participate.
Ann O’Donnell at the Office of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs advises that all pre-schools are eligible to apply to the scheme. This includes both specialist and mainstream services. She was clear that “all services are subject to the equal status acts 2000 and 2004” which means that no child should be left out and places will be available for children with special needs.
Early education is a key step in early child development as it both helps with later education and encourages children to learn how to communicate with others and to make friends.
Loopholes however exist in the ECCE in that a parent may be charged extra if a child wishes to participate in additional services such as music or dance. If a parent decides they do not want to pay extra, the school is obliged to continue caring for the child and offer an alternative activity. Providers can however charge for additional hours not covered by the scheme, which entitles each child to 2 hours 15 minutes 5 days a week.
While this is a positive step, it may mean that if an individual’s preschool of choice does not qualify, they may have to go elsewhere. For a full list of participating preschools in your area, contact your local city council. Further information including a guide for parents can be found at the NCCA website.
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(compiled by Miriam Walsh)