Full-day kindergarten cannot wait
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