March 5, 2010
Pioneers in Early Childhood Education


by: The EARLY CHILDHOOD DESK, Ministry of Education.

Over the past 50 years, Early Childhood Education has been refined and redefined in St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG). Initially, early childhood centres emerged as babysitting services for working mothers, but as practitioners became more aware that there was need to engage children in learning activities, there was a change of purpose.{{more}}

There are many persons who played a fundamental role in the development of early childhood programs and services here in SVG. During this month, as we celebrate our National Heroes, we take time to salute these persons. This week our featured pioneer is Mrs. Millicent Iton.

Mrs. Millicent Iton

Mrs. Millicent Iton recalls vividly how she became involved in the field of Early Childhood Education and Childcare. “I can remember that I went to a preschool in Chile, Georgetown, years ago. You see, I was very chatty, and when my older sister went, I wanted to go, too.” It was the enjoyment that she experienced there that impacted her desire to become associated in this field of work. In SVG, preschool education did not evolve from a need to engage children in early learning; instead, it was related to a concern for the health of the young children in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. “Lord and Lady Hailes, the British representatives from the West indies Federation, were visiting the Windward Islands. They were shocked at the number of potbellied children they saw in St. Vincent.” Mrs. Iton shared. “In those days children mortality was very high.” An assessment was later done by Mrs. Monica Green, who reported that SVG had the greatest need for intervention, and this gave birth to the Save the Children Fund, and resulted in the establishment of what is now known as VINSAVE.

Mrs. Iton, received her education at the Girls’ High School, then furthered her studies at the University of the West Indies (UWI) Mona before she obtained more training in Swansea, Wales. As part of her training, she did short term work in Sweden and Denmark, where she observed teachers in Early Childhood Education. One thing that stood out was their use of recycled material to make teaching aids. Armed with new knowledge and enthused about child development, she returned to SVG to become Social Worker and Educator.

Her illustrious career spanned a period of some thirty years- ranging from Director of Canadian Save the Children Fund (CANSAVE) to Programme Coordinator for UNICEF in SVG and Director of UWI Preschool Services Committee. She was also Organizer of Childcare Development in a number of Caribbean islands. As Mrs. Iton reflects on her years in Early Childhood Care and Education, she opines that her effectiveness in this area resulted in a training programme that pulled students from all over the Caribbean. After students graduated, she made follow-up visits to the islands from which the students came in order to assess their work. Mrs. Iton was also instrumental in the construction of the YWCA headquarters and the celebration of Child Month here in SVG.

Today, Mrs. Iton spends most of her time at her home overlooking the capital. Nostalgia is evident in her voice as she says: “There were three of us in Early Childhood. One has since passed on. Only two of us remain.” Some of the programmes Mrs. Iton instituted are still used in many early childhood centres around SVG, and her book, Training for Nursery Workers: a Handbook in Childcare and Development, is still being used in Early Childhood training programmes throughout the Caribbean.“I was at the airport in Puerto Rico,” she shares with a smile, “when I heard someone calling my name.” She continued, “Although I couldn’t remember her, it was one of my students whom I had taught years ago.”

Mrs. Millicent Iton was awarded an MBE (1978) and was inducted into the Russell’s Hall of Fame in 2006. She will always be hailed as a nation builder and pioneer in Early Childhood Care and Education in SVG.