All-day kindergarten is a waste of money
September 8, 2010. Marni Soupcoff
When Ontario announced the introduction of all-day kindergarten in public schools, it did so under the guise of improving early learning opportunities for children; and Premier McGuinty continues to cast the program as a means to improve test scores and graduation rates. But the truth is that the main benefit of a longer kindergarten day is free childcare for working parents.
Which is fine, if that is what the government hopes to accomplish. However, they should come clean about what they are doing and why — an act that would allow costs to be cut by hiring qualified caregivers rather than qualified teachers for the added “school time.”
An even more efficient way to achieve the free child care would be to simply give parents the equivalent cash, to spent on the childcare arrangement of their choice.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that there aren’t kids out there who could really use significant extra time, attention and help to get them ready for the rest of their education. It’s just that blanket all-day kindergarten for everybody isn’t the best (or even a very good) way to reach these struggling children.
As I argued in a column in March, kids from middle-and upper-class families are already getting enrichment at home and in carefully selected, parent-screened private nursery schools and day care centres, so publicly funding a system-wide change that includes them is a waste of a huge amount of money.
They need special programs geared not only toward teaching them basic skills, but also geared toward including their parents in the educational process so that learning and encouragement continue at home. It’s probably impossible to achieve significant improvements without regular home visits and consistent behavioral reinforcement. Sound expensive? It would be. Hugely. But at least money directed at such efforts would be better spent than the pointless exercise of paying for an extra half-day of babysitting — in large part for children who are well on track to meet educational goals and perform well as students. Also, at least such focused efforts would have a better shot at achieving some of the ambitious goals -— higher test scores, better graduation rates — that have been set for all-day kindergarten, but which there is no persuasive evidence that an extra half-day will accomplish.
In other words, if the Ontario government is set on spending an extra $1.5-billion a year on education, let’s at least insist that it uses that money intelligently and strategically in a way that has the best chance of helping the kids who are most in need of the extra resources.
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