Full-day kinder­garten can­not wait

The Compass - - OPINION -

Dear ed­i­tor,

It was en­cour­ag­ing to see the is­sue of full­day kinder­garten back in the news and the recog­ni­tion by the min­is­ter of ed­u­ca­tion of the value of high-qual­ity early ed­u­ca­tion. How­ever, we have had the same prom­ise for a num­ber of years and can no longer af­ford to de­lay im­ple­men­ta­tion in this province; too many stu­dents are fall­ing through the cracks.

Spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion ser­vices in our schools are chang­ing and our new model of ed­u­ca­tion does not per­mit chil­dren to re­ceive the level of sup­port they once had, and this is tak­ing a toll on teach­ers, par­ents and stu­dents. Teach­ers are stretched be­yond their lim­its, more par­ents are search­ing for out­side sup­port for their chil­dren and, most im­por­tantly, too many stu­dents are not hav­ing success in the early grades.

Read­ing scores in this province are poor. Last year only 52 per cent of Grade 3 stu­dents in our province were suc­cess­ful on the read­ing for in­for­ma­tion com­po­nent of the cri­te­rion-ref­er­enced test. This is un­ac­cept- able, and I fear it will only get worse un­less changes are made to the sys­tem.

It is well known that full-day kinder­garten has a pos­i­tive ef­fect on chil­dren’s learn­ing in their most for­ma­tive years, with re­sults that last. Re­search find­ings iden­tify many ben­e­fits, in­clud­ing im­proved so­ciale­mo­tional devel­op­ment and aca­demic devel­op­ment, and nar­row­ing the gap of achieve­ment for chil­dren from low­er­in­come fam­i­lies.

I un­der­stand the cost to im­ple­ment full-day kinder­garten is high, but the plan to wait un­til it can be im­ple­mented in all schools is not prac­ti­cal. There are schools in our province that have space avail­able now — es­pe­cially in ar­eas of de­clin­ing en­rol­ment. And new schools can be built with the ca­pac­ity to ac­com­mo­date ex­tra classes.

Other prov­inces have phased in the full-day pro­gram. For ex­am­ple, On­tario be­gan phas­ing in full-day kinder­garten in 2010 and plan to have it com­pleted by 2014.

We need to be­gin the process. Ev­ery year we de­lay means an­other group of chil­dren to whom we have failed to pro­vide the best ed­u­ca­tional start, which trans­lates into more stu­dents re­quir­ing in­ter­ven­tion as they move through the sys­tem.

It takes many years to re­al­ize the full ef­fects of a poor ed­u­ca­tional sys­tem but the cost to so­ci­ety is enor­mous. Low lit­er­acy rates have an im­pact on so­cial, emo­tional and health is­sues, in ad­di­tion to a loss in pro­duc­tiv­ity in gen­eral. Stu­dents will never be able to com­pete glob­ally with­out lit­er­acy skills.

Our play-based early ed­u­ca­tion pro­gram does not ad­e­quately ad­dress the needs of stu­dents and will not pro­vide a solid foun­da­tion for later learn­ing. Pro­vid­ing the best pos­si­ble early ed­u­ca­tion pro­gram will have a real im­pact on the fu­ture of this province. What bet­ter legacy can a government leave?

Diane Goos­ney writes from St. John’s

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