At the end of April 2009, the Senate of Canada released a report titled Early Childhood Education and Care: Next Steps. I printed it out and have been lugging it around with me (it runs more than 200 pages) for the better part of a month. If you are at all interested in the issues of daycare, child care and early childhood education in Canada, and how Canada compares to the rest of the world, I highly recommend you make yourself a copy and find the time to read it. If you’ve never read a Parliamentary report, you don’t know what you’re missing! And if you can’t quite find the couple of spare hours you’ll need to polish it off, fear not, because I am going to break it down for you and share the highlights over the next little while.
When I read the Executive Summary, my first reaction was eyeball-rolling disappointment. The main recommendations are (spoiler alert!):
1. That the Prime Minister appoint a Minister of State for Children and Youth, “with responsibilities to include working with provincial and territorial governments to advance quality early learning, parenting programs and child care” and to research early childhood development and learning.
2. The Minister should be advised by a new National Advisory Council on Children, on matters of “how to best support parents and advance quality early learning and child care.” The Council would be populated by “Parliamentarians, other stakeholders, community leaders and parents, with appropriate representation from Aboriginal communities.”
3. That the government call a series of multi-jurisdictional meetings to establish a “pan-Canadian framework to provide policies and programs to support children and their families” and establish a “federal/provincial/territorial Council of Ministers…to meet anually to review Canada’s progress with respect to other OECD countries and to share best practices.”
4. The government should establish “an adequately funded, robust system of data collection, evaluation and research, promoting all aspects of quality human development and in early childhood programming, including the development of curricula, program evaluation and child outcome measures.”
Captivating stuff, isn’t it? The Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Techonology took nearly three years to issue a report that calls for — more bureaucracy.
Because this is a topic dear to my heart, and because I think it’s important for every single Canadian to know at least a little bit about this issue, and because I like to think I have at least a moderate ability to translate government-speak into a language people other than the bureaucrats can understand, I’m going to take an in-depth look at this report in a series of posts over the next little while. By the time I finished reading it — and I read every single word because there is no end to the things I will do for my bloggy peeps — I was more or less in agreement with the Committee’s recommendations.
This Committee’s report was inspired by a 2006 report from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) that ranked Canada dead last of 14 countries participating in the OECD’s Thematic Review of Early Childhood Education and Care. As noted in the Senate report, “the 50 reports that make up the OECD’s review of education and care services for pre-school-aged children comprise the largest body of comparative policy research to date in the field” and “allowed Canada to evaluate itself against international peers and provided a unique opportunity to drawn on best practices in early learning and child care policy and delivery.” Did I mention dead last? Ouch.
The OECD highlighted strengths and weaknesses in Canada’s early childhood care and education system. The strengths included the one-year parental leave, Quebec’s early education and child care policies, a well-established kindergarten network for children aged five years and older, and “efforts of provincial administrations to maintain ECEC services ‘despite a withdrawal of Federal funding and a climate of suspicion of public services’.” The areas of concern included:
- weak public funding of ECEC services, especially for children under five years;
- the separation of child care from early education;
- limited access to affordable child care services and particular issues related to access for Aboriginal children;
- the quality of child care, e.g., very poor accommodation, child care workers’ protective and interventionist approach, lack of direct access to outside space;
- the apparent predominance of unregulated care; and,
- staff qualifications and training and other issues related to their recruitment and retention, e.g., absence of federal and provincial/territorial guidelines and low wage levels, and lmited tradition of professional development.
A few more statistics that I found both enlightening and alarming: among the OECD countries under review, Canada ranked in the top 10 in the following categories:
Wealth: ranked 4th in gross domestic product (GDP) per capita
Cost of child care: ranked 4th in amount paid by parents for early childhood services
Child Poverty: ranked 7th overall
Proportion of “working” mothers: ranked 7th overall for mothers with children under three years old and 8th for mothers with children under six years old.
Further, Canada came in 14th out of 20 for early childhood education attendance for children ages 0 to 3 and last out of 20 countries for early childhood education attendance for ages 3 – 6. We came in 15th out of 20 countries on spending on social programs as a proportion of GDP and last of countries compared in spending on early learning and child care services.
It’s not a very pretty picture, is it?
And that’s only skimming through 20 of 200+ pages of information. In the next couple of posts, we’ll take a look at what other countries are doing, why early childhood education is so important to every single member of our society, and what Canada should do next.