Early learning and child care strategies

For as long as I can remember (i.e. when I was a kid) Ontario has had junior kindergarten for four-year-olds. It is mostly half-day, I think, as is senior kindergarten for five-year olds. Here in BC they just have one kindergarten for five-year-olds, and is generally two-and-a-half to three hours per day.

In the recent BC Throne Speech, the government announced something very interesting. Here’s the text:

A new Early Childhood Learning Agency will be established. It will assess the feasibility and costs of full school day kindergarten for five-year-olds. It will also undertake a feasibility study of providing parents with the choice of day-long kindergarten for four-year-olds by 2010, and for three-year-olds by 2012. That report will be completed and released within the year.

This proposal has been somewhat divisive for advocates of child care in BC. Some are supporting it, some not. This was the basis of a front-page Vancouver Sun article on the weekend (which also addressed the roll-out of drop-in early learning “StrongStart” centres). One prominent child care advocate and Vancouver School Board trustee, Sharon Gregson, says:

“Most people would agree that the time has come for full-day kindergarten … Two hours and 15 minutes of morning or afternoon kindergarten doesn’t serve anybody well.”

But interestingly, the BC Teachers’ Federation has come out against the proposal:

The B.C. Teachers’ Federation is strongly opposed to kindergarten for children younger than five and worries about the government’s push for early learning in StrongStart centres. The union says children need social supports and well-funded, accessible daycare rather than early learning centres that stress letters and numbers.

“If a child is well fed, has decent housing, has good social supports, has medical and dental support and has good, high-quality daycare … they will be ready for kindergarten,” president Irene Lanzinger said in an interview. “Readiness isn’t knowing how to read or do your numbers because there’s lots of time for that.” Children under five should concentrate on play, she added.

This seems puzzling to me. First of all, why would a union oppose action that would increase its membership, and in particular, unionize workers in the early learning and child care field who are woefully underpaid. Second, in policy terms, I think this dichotomy between work and play is a false one. My experience as an observer is that the best early learning environments are a mix of work and play (this is certainly true of existing kindergartens) and that learning-through-play is an ideal as espoused in popular Montessori programs, etc.

Finally, it sets up the classic dynamic of labour force participation on the part of (mostly) mothers (“baby sitting”) versus early childhood development (“education”), when really a good system would do both. But the key is in the politics: the BC government has demonstrated essentially no interest in expanding the patchwork of child care as we know it, but this new tack may in fact undercut the issue of child care from the opposition NDP. My prediction is an “education budget” next year prior to the next scheduled provincial election.

So, backing this proposal may in fact be the most politically feasible means of expanding early learning and child care down at least to three-year-olds (there would still be missing pieces, including one and two-year-olds and after-school care). My (untested) assumption is that a roll-out based on an education theme is more likely to be a political winner than just “child care”. After all, no one calls the K-12 system “child care”; that is just one of the side benefits.

One comment

  • There is a simple answer to why the unions don’t want kindergarten. Daycare workers are not teachers and it will put them out of work.

    Though i agree there should not be 4 year old kindergarten, I do not agree with the unions.
    Daycare workers deserve the right to work and get paid, but not off the back of children that are at home with their parents.

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