Full-day kindergarten comes into play
TheGlobeandMail.com – National – Full-day kindergarten comes into play: McGuinty proposes ambitious plan to put Ontario’s four- and five-year-olds under the same roof all day – at a cost of $1-billion
Tuesday, Jun. 16, 2009. Caroline Alphonso, Dakshana Bascaramurty and Dawn Walton
Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty’s self-proclaimed role as the education premier will be tested as he embarks on an integrated full-day kindergarten and childcare program with the province facing a mounting deficit and opposition from the country’s largest teachers’ union.
Sweeping change that would put Ontario’s four- and five-year-olds under the same roof all day is the most ambitious in the country and follows aborted attempts by other provinces to introduce such changes.
Citing the financial crunch, British Columbia was forced to postpone plans for full-day kindergarten this fall, and Nova Scotia cancelled its pre-primary school program for four-year-olds.
The $1-billion proposal outlined Monday by former Ontario deputy minister of education Charles Pascal would consolidate daycare and kindergarten into a single program from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. beginning in 2010.
Pupils would be instructed by teams of teachers and early childhood educators.
Full-day kindergarten has been Mr. McGuinty’s cornerstone election promise. The government has allocated $500-million over two years to start phasing in the program, but Mr. McGuinty told reporters he did not know how much the plan would cost and how long it will take to fully implement it.
“It’s hard to say at this point,” Mr. McGuinty said. “We are required to take into account our economic circumstances [so] it could be longer than three years.”
The proposal was met with criticism from teachers’ groups, who said that staff with “lower credentials” should not instruct students in the classroom, as per union agreements.
“It’s certainly our belief that no premier would look to undermine, undo those collective agreements that his minister certainly was in the middle of trying to bring about,” said David Clegg, president of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario.
“To suggest this new model is an improvement, I think throws away the professionalism, the quality of education that a fully certified teacher can provide.”
Mr. McGuinty said teachers and other staff will have to work together.
Academics say this blended system better equips children and the province for the rigours of a creative economy.
In a country whose patchwork early-learning system trails behind those of other rich nations, Ontario’s push to blend kindergarten and child care will prod other provinces to follow suit, a leading child-care advocate hopes.
“There has been increasing interest and awareness that this is the right direction to go in, but nobody has done it,” said Martha Friendly, executive director of the Childcare Resource and Research Unit.
“I think that the fact the Ontario is going to move on this – and I have no doubt it will – I think it will really move it along with the other provinces.”
Quebec’s $7-a-day early childhood program is for preschool-aged children and separated from the classroom. Nova Scotia phased out its pre-primary pilot programs for four-year-olds last year for financial reasons and after it allowed younger-aged pupils to be eligible for school.
And in British Columbia, where half-day kindergarten for five-year-olds is not mandatory, plans to change that were delayed by the economic crisis.
Parents in Ontario welcomed the plan for a full-day learning program. Parents would still have a choice about their children’s participation, including the option of full-day or half-day attendance.
Annie Liao picks up her six-year-old son Bryan at the bus stop at 4 p.m. with her four-year-old daughter Emily in tow. This fall, when Emily starts kindergarten at another school, that routine will get much more complicated. She said she wishes she could send Emily to a private full-day kindergarten, but that’s not an option for her single-income household.
“I come from another country – China. I expected it to be a full day when I got here,” she said.
In Alberta, where the decision on full-day kindergarten is left to the local school authority, Erica Foley noticed a huge difference in her daughter Haleigh’s reading skills when she went through a full-day kindergarten program two years ago, compared to those of her son, Braden, who skipped kindergarten and jumped into Grade 1. Her daughter is finishing Grade 2 and her son is wrapping up Grade 3.
“Her reading is miles ahead of where her brother’s was,” said the Calgary mom.
A full-day of early education can also be a blessing to families who often scramble to find and afford child care, she added.
“These days, both parents need to work to make ends meet,” she said.
With a report from Rhéal Séguin in Quebec