Early learning developments in BC

Having already eaten the NDP’s lunch on the climate change file, the BC Liberals (the second-term, more moderate Liberals) threaten to do the same on early learning and child care. In the 2008 Throne Speech, the government said that it would study expansion of full-day kindergarten to five-year-olds, then to four- and three-year olds. But they are smart: having resisted funding child care expansion in BC, even seeing it diminish under its watch, the Liberals are re-framing around education. I think “child care” connotates baby-sitting and gets a lot of backs up, whereas only a handful of homeschooling parents could disagree with more and better education (no one thinks of K-12 as child care unless a teachers’ strike is on).

My prediction: the Liberals will move ahead on this, make it an election issue, and blow away the NDP on this file.

A discussion paper has been released, from which I quote below:

Children between the ages of three and five are at critical stages of development.  Brain research has shown that during the early years children’s brains have the most plasticity.  This evidence suggests that, during this time, there are windows of opportunity when children are especially receptive to experiences that can shape their whole lives.

Most children’s early learning takes place through relationships and play and, while these can be informal, there is also strong evidence that quality early childhood programs have positive impacts on children’s future success in the school system.  Programs that best guide children’s learning are developmentally appropriate to their stage of learning, play based, and designed to holistically address all areas of child development:  physical, social/emotional, language, and cognitive. Evidence suggests that highly structured, academic programs that use primary school curriculum for children aged three and four do not have the desired results.

The economic benefits of quality programming in the early years have also been studied, showing significant savings in social programs when children participate in them. When programs are not high quality, then the benefits are lost.  Research also shows that expanding choice for parents can have a positive effect on the workforce.

In terms of children’s development, significant research findings indicate that children who have participated in pre-school and full-day kindergarten experience positive outcomes in their academic and social-emotional development.  This is true both for children who are considered vulnerable, and for those who are not – but only when programs are well-designed and well-implemented and are followed by quality primary programs.  The positive effect of pre-school programming needs to be maintained. British Columbia has limited class size in kindergarten through Grade 3 to help address these quality issues.

Other evidence indicates that sustained benefits and significant savings are highest when programs are target to vulnerable, at risk children, particularly when these programs include a parent support component.

… A recent review of early learning in 20 countries worldwide, conducted by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), found growing levels of interest in increasing universal access to quality early learning for children aged three to six and the importance of qualifications in the staff providing the service.

Other significant developments include:

  • a trend towards combining early childhood programs with programs for primary school age children ;
  • a growing belief  that care and education are not separate concepts, and that quality programs for young children provide both;
  • an emerging consensus that early learning programs should be led by educators with appropriate post-secondary training; and
  • a trend towards full coverage by the education system for children aged three to six.

Many countries are working towards offering two years of free (publicly funded) early learning before Grade 1. … Finland, which has excellent international performance on measures of education achievement, provides every child from age one to school entry at age seven with free programs. The services for children one to five are largely provided in early learning and child care centres, with six year old children in programs provided by preschools with wrap around child care.  Parents pay an average of 15 percent of costs for the child care portion.

In New Zealand, families have free, universal access for early education programs for children who are age 3 and 4 for 20 hours a week.  Working parents requiring additional child care can access more service at the same site, in most cases, for an additional 10 hours a week for a fee.  Subsidies are available for low income parents.  These services are offered by a combination of preschools (called kindergartens in New Zealand) and other early learning programs that are both profit and community-based organizations.  All programs must use the standard curriculum and have been gradually raising the standard for teacher training as part of a 10 year strategic plan.  The curriculum in New Zealand for young children takes a holistic approach to children’s learning.

Norway and the Netherlands begin full-day preschool access at age four. In Norway, 88 percent of children age three to six participate in preschool programs, as they move to a national goal of universal access.  Their programs are a combination of public and private.  In the Netherlands, publicly-funded primary education includes children from four to six years old in half days or full days during the school calendar year.

The United Kingdom provides guaranteed access to free part-day preschool beginning at age three. These are provided in a range of settings, including schools and stand alone pre-schools and child care centres.  Australia provides free part day programs at age four and full school day programs at age five.  Some three and four year olds receive their programs in licensed child care settings.

In Italy, there are a variety of approaches, … [i]n most cases, the programs are available to families from 8:30 to 4:30 with a ceiling on fees. Children may attend either full or part day.  One city, Reggio Emilia, is well known world-wide for its approach to teaching in its preschools, jointly funded by various levels of government.  This municipality characterizes all its programs as “early education” to dispel the notion of early learning and care being separate services.

In Ireland children are legally entitled to a free education from the age of four years.  About fifty percent of four year olds access preschool. Programs for this age group operate as morning classes in elementary schools.  …

In Germany, 93 percent of children over the age of three until school entry have access to preschools.  A parental cost for full work day pre-school, varies from region to region, with an average of 14 percent of services being paid for by families. France has almost 100 percent of children aged three to five in free écoles maternelles (preschools), which are part of the school system with a national curriculum.


  • I primarily like federal daycare because it aids the development of children with bad parents.
    An ancillary benefit is it stabilizes the economy via bolstering employment in the event of a Canadian economic downturn. Daycare is an employee intensive industry and parents provided with daycare are freed to work.
    Strange that S.Harper is attacking S.Dion’s carbon tax on the grounds of uncertain economic times (over the long-term it will be cheaper to enforce a low-footprint economy sooner rather than later, and to use AB’s freshwater/natural-gas resources for something other than extracting oil from gooey deposits) yet not implementing Universal day-care. It is actually a family-friendly policy not at all at odds with Conservative nuclear family values. Okay it isn’t stay-at-home-Mom friendly but it is child-friendly.

  • As usual the BC goverment is ahead of the curve with its initial move to provide and early learning for children as young as 3 years old. One has to be very critical of the choice of “learning”. Yes the program should be appropriate to their stage of learning and designed to holistically address all areas of child development: physical, social/emotional, language, and cognitive. But I am sorry – I am very tired of hearing “play based”. Playing with blocks, sand and plastic toys all day does not represent an intelligent form of learning. Children should be exposed via a mixed age group (2.5 to 6) to the three “Rs”, music, gegraphy, culture etc. They should have available to them all the tools a kindergarten child has today. We as a society totally underestimate the abilities of children as young as 2.5.

    Beyond the curriculum being dumbed down, where in the world will the government find qualified staff. I have had recent experience in a daycare setting. The staff, if you can find them, are trained to babysit children. They are also underpaid. The goverment has recently changed the necessary quailifications to work in a daycare because daycares have been unable to find staff. In order to work in a government regulated daycare you need to take two courses (4 months).

    Lindsay Graye
    Squamish Montessori School

  • “Having already eaten the NDP’s lunch on the climate change file, the BC Liberals (the second-term, more moderate Liberals) threaten to do the same on early learning and child care. …

    My prediction: the Liberals will move ahead on this, make it an election issue, and blow away the NDP on this file.”

    Well Marc, what can anyone say? Will you be writing a Vancouver Sun op-ed piece on this issue, in the same tone and spirit as Mark Jaccard’s op-ed pieces on the carbon tax? BTW, I like your serious, non-political tone. It really helps to focus one’s attention on the gaps in Canadian day care and early education.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *