The BC Government’s Plan for Early Learning – Not the Best Option
By Ruth Bredenhof, Bulkley Valley ARPA
Although temporarily on hold, the BC Government has confirmed that they are committed to extending Early Learning to include full-day kindergarten for five-year-olds, as well as four-year-olds by 2010 and three-year-olds by 2012.1
The reasons given in the Government’s Consultation paper for expanding Early Learning include the following: to positively impact the children’s future success in the school system both academically and socially, for economic reasons as it will enable more parents to work, to provide parents with more options, and it will help BC to “keep up” with other countries around the world who have extensive Early Learning Education programs.2
When you look further into the issue, however, it becomes clear that, as the Canadian Taxpayers Associations says, “no matter how the government spins it, all-day kindergarten is nothing more than very expensive institutionalized day-care.”3
Organizations are pushing for combining child-care with education in what is called the “integration” approach. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which is quoted in the Government consultation, describes the integration approach as the basis for transition to a “new order” of greater state intervention in the family. The goal is to overcome the ideology of the family. The OECD wrote in the 2005 report (pg. 3), “This includes deep changes in societies in general and in the family’s structure in particular…a review of the family-state relationship regarding the responsibility for the care and education of children.”4
This train of thought seems to be prevalent by those who are demanding this expansion of Early Learning. An article posted on the BC Teacher’s Federation website quotes Jody Dallaire, chair of the Child Care Advocacy Association of Canada, who stated that “childcare should be viewed as a public good that requires sound public policy development and investment of funds”. It is also mentioned that Ontario’s goal in their expansion of Early Learning Education is to “provide youngsters and their working parents with “seamless” days – ideally providing kindergarten classes with a play-based curriculum in the same location as daycares – even considering locations outside of schools…”5
Expanding kindergarten to full days is seen as a practical way to increase the availability of childcare as it eliminates expensive childcare fees for five-year-olds (and eventually four and maybe even three-year-olds), and creates more spaces for those three and under.6
Contrary to the BC Government’s Consultation paper, there is no strong evidence that quality Early Childhood programs have positive impacts on the child’s future successes in the school system. The statements and terms are very vague with no definitions provided for example, “early childhood programs” can include swimming lessons, Sunday school, music lessons etc.
Research seems to show that teaching formal skills early gives children an initial advantage, but children who start later on literacy and numeric programs quickly catch up. There isn’t any discernable difference by age eight. Research by the Evaluation of Educational Achievement that tested children’s reading skills of 9 and 14 year olds from 32 different countries, found that the top achieving countries had a later school starting age.8
There are always a number of factors that come into play, but there doesn’t seem to be any indication that Early Education is better for a child. Rather, there is actually evidence to show that it is harmful for a child. Currently, a child is either in a child-care setting where the maximum adult-to child ratio is one to eight, or from another setting where the adult to child ratio is generally much lower. This proposal would see the child move into a school setting where the current maximum ratio is one adult to twenty children. Which do you think is better for a child? A 2005 Study of Quebec’s universal child-care program, led by University of Toronto Professor Michael Baker, found some children’s behaviour and health actually worsened after the introduction of universal childcare in that province. A MacLean’s Article (Jan 9, 2008) shows that early schooling is especially harmful to boys.
The government also acknowledges that young children learn mostly through relationships and play. It is not clear why play should take place in the “formal kindergarten” setting. Free play will be compromised due to the need to access, the physical limits, the pressure of assessing performance etc.9
Children currently do have access to many formal programs to compliment their free play (including the free Strong Start programs), and these would be undermined if resources were relegated to the “formal’ option of school. It is falsely concluded that children currently do not have access to early learning programs and therefore need government-run, all-day classroom experience.10
Shirley Bond [BC Minister of Education] says, “We’re simply saying we want more choice, and we want to figure out what the best model for families would be in the province”. But as the Canadian Taxpayers Assoc. states, “Research shows that parents’ first choice is to stay home with their children. Their second choice is to have a relative care for their children. Way down the list is government-provided day-care, even if it is heavily subsidised…”11
With costs estimated at approximately $400+ million/year to expand Early Learning which shows no real proof of any benefit for the children, is this really the choice parents want? The push for full-day kindergarten and expansion of Early Learning is very strong, especially as schools are trying to deal with declining school enrolment, and working parents face often very high child care fees (currently $600-$800/mth). It is important that we keep the focus on what is best for our children, and the other children and families of the province, and make it clear that we don’t want this “choice” imposed by the government and organizations pushing the “integration agenda”. Let us make it clear that parents in BC think the best model for families would be to have a parent stay home with their children, and policies (such as family taxation as in France, or income splitting) should be pursued to make it easier for parents to have that option. This is in line with BC’s Early Learning Framework, which states that: “Families are the primary caregivers of children and have the most important role in promoting their children’s well-being, learning and development in the context of supportive communities.”12
Let us also encourage the BC Government to look at other ways of improving the current system to better meet the needs of families. Half-day kindergarten programs seem to be difficult to work around, and maybe a system of 2 or 3 full-days per week would help alleviate some of the challenges like transportation and daycare. This would allow kindergarten children to experience a full-school day, yet also give them the much-needed days off to recuperate and have free play. Communities could also clearly lay out the program options for parents with pre-school age children so they can participate in programs suitable for their children at their discretion.
What can you do?
Pressure the BC Government to release the 2600 submissions received during the consultation process as promised. Pass this on to your MLA and educate them on the weaknesses of this plan. Also, remind the people in your community of the importance of this issue by writing a letter to the editor of your local paper. Possibly begin a petition and circulate it among other concerned parents. We must all keep our focus on what is best for the children and their development. It is critical that we all speak up; if we don’t our silence will be seen as approval.
1. http://www.vancouversun.com/pdf/throne_speechbc2009.pdf (pg 11,12)