Early learners need teachers

TheStar.com – Opinion – Early learners need teachers
August 28, 2009.   Sam Hammond, PRESIDENT OF THE ELEMENTARY TEACHERS’ FEDERATION OF ONTARIO


When Premier Dalton McGuinty campaigned for re-election in 2007 he promised Ontario parents “full-day kindergarten.” Perhaps McGuinty was being casual in his use of words or perhaps he knew, as polls show, that parents and the general public overwhelmingly favour a full-day kindergarten program with a qualified teacher in the classroom.

In June the government released the recommendations of its early learning adviser, Charles Pascal. His report, With Our Best Future in Mind, recommends a plan that would see certified teachers working with young learners for only half of the day. This is not full-day kindergarten but the addition of child care to existing kindergarten programs.

The Pascal report contained many excellent recommendations: locating the programs in schools; making schools community hubs; ensuring that programs are play-based. All will work to support parents and children. The report’s recommendation that the Ministry of Education have responsibility for these programs is also a step in the right direction as is Pascal’s long- term recommendation that would see an increase in parental leave. Where Pascal fell short was in not recognizing the importance of staffing the program with university-trained, certified teachers.

We believe that certified, university-trained teachers are essential if young students are to get maximum benefit of their full day at school. Every existing full-day kindergarten program in the province – and there are many – is taught by a certified teacher. ETFO members who are kindergarten teachers tell us they need and want more time in the classroom to help their young students learn. The government should take advantage of their knowledge and dedication in designing its new program.

That qualified teachers bring unique knowledge to the kindergarten classroom cannot be disputed. Teachers know how to develop children’s foundational skills and help them prepare for the more formal learning that begins in Grade 1. They understand the curriculum and how what happens in kindergarten is linked to the learning in later primary grades. They know how to monitor and assess student progress and how to adjust the curriculum to meet student needs. With only a half day in the classroom their ability to give students the benefit of this knowledge and training would be severely limited.

Furthermore, many ETFO members have special training that helps them understand how young children learn and grow. They deliver stimulating, play-based learning to young students every day. Our Kindergarten Additional Qualifications course, accredited by the Ontario College of Teachers, is in high demand.

European countries, New Zealand and the United States have all acknowledged the importance of university-trained teachers staffing full-day education programs for young children. The government of Prince Edward Island’s commission on kindergarten has done likewise and is recommending that early childhood educators acquire teaching credentials over a number of years. Can all of these jurisdictions be wrong?

Moreover, a teacher in the classroom is what parents expect. An Environics poll conducted this summer reiterated what earlier polls have shown: parents and the public overwhelmingly favour the presence of a certified teacher in the classroom for a full day.

This is not meant to diminish the work of early childhood educators. ETFO understands the value of their training and skills. We believe that an ideal program would pair a certified teacher with an early childhood educator for a full day. ETFO’s position is fully explained in our position paper Moving Ontario Forward. It is available on our website, etfo.ca.

The expansion of Ontario’s education system to include a full-day kindergarten program for 4- and 5-year-olds is long overdue. The best program will have certified teachers with students for a full day.

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