A couple of weeks back, I started writing a series of posts about the state of early education and child care in Canada. The first post was an introduction and summary of the Canadian Senate’s report called “Early Childhood Education and Care: Next Steps.” I was rather underwhelmed by the Senates main recommendations, which were for more bureaucracy. Before I had a chance to write up my next post on the series, the government of Ontario released a watershed (I hope) report full of jaw-dropping recommendations for early childhood education in Ontario, centred around the recommendation for full-day kindergarten for 4- and 5-year-olds.
Compared to the Senate’s call for more bureaucracy, I was delighted â€“ practically gleeful! — to see the clear plan and call to action laid out in “With Our Best Future in Mind: Implementing Early Learning in Ontario.” The report, commissioned when the McGuinty provincial government was elected in 2007, contains recommendations that are so full of promise and potential that I’m almost afraid to hope they might be implemented.
Here are some of the things the report recommends:
“Every child in Ontario who turns 4 by December 31 would be entitled to attend two years of full-day, school-year Early Learning Program operated by school boards.”
“Parents would have the option of extended programming before and after the traditional school day and year, not as an add-on but as part of the Early Learning Program.” Thatâ€™s integrated before and after school care!
The report also calls for schools to become â€œcommunity hubsâ€ offering many of the same services that the current Early Years Centres offer, including parenting support and counseling, pre- and post-natal support and information, early identification of issues and resources, etc. Schools will be open to the community from 7:30 am to 6 pm, 50 weeks of the year. “Crucial to the new vision for Ontario is the transformation of all elementary schools into community schools, open to their neighbourhoods and capable of providing families with opportunities for childrenâ€™s learning, care, health, culture, arts, and recreation from the prenatal period through to adolescence.”
Imagine that! Schools open to the community! (Is anyone else vaguely disturbed by having to stand outside a fence practically off school property for school pick-ups and drop-offs? I understand the school’s concern for safety, but I do in fact feel vaguely alienated from my kids’ school!)
It also calls for fee-based Extended Day Primary programming â€“ basically, enrichment programs in arts and sports for ages 6 to 8 and 9 to 12.
A final recommendation is the implementation of a 400-day paid leave for parents, including a six-week leave for the exclusive use of fathers and other â€œnon-birthingâ€ parents.
Itâ€™s a hugely ambitious plan, aiming for implementation beginning next year in 2010-2011. I can only hope the school boards and teachers’ unions that are currently criticizing the plan have the sense to recognize it as containing the kind of radical shift in philosophy that we will look back on and wonder why we didnâ€™t do it a generation before.
I love the fact that this report gets it right by first suggesting a series of finite, clearly enunciated steps to be implemented more or less immediately, and THEN follows it up with a recommendation for the necessary ministries and legislation to support the revitalized system, instead of the other way around as recommended by the Senate report.
If you haven’t read it between the lines, I’m very excited about this report and just about everything it contains. Once upon a time, when the idea of full-day kindergarten was first floated by the McGuinty government circa 2007, I admit that I saw it mostly as a way to reduce my own out-of-pocket costs on child care. But, after spending a lot of time recently up to my elbows in public reports on child care and early childhood education, I can see that there are huge societal gains to be had in implementing these ideas and the potential for saving a few bucks on daycare is actually among the lesser of the huge benefits to be reaped. I’ll take a look at the research I’ve seen in the next post in what is becoming an increasingly elongated — but suddenly extremely positive — series!