Friday, August 01, 2008

Kindergarten for three-year-olds a great idea

I've been doing newspapering work for quite a few years, in quite a few places. It's like building sand castles below the tide line in some ways. The best column is forgotten in a few days.
But ask me what I'm proudest of, and I can answer in a flash. It started with a column and ended with a letter from a premier.
Columns can come easily. This one did. I was standing outside a school portable on a freezing day in a suburb of Saint John. (The one in New Brunswick.)
I'd lined up to register our ferociously bright daughter for a great kindergarten.
New Brunswick was and is a have-not province. Kindergarten wasn't part of the school system. If you wanted your child to go, you had to pay.
And I looked at the line of parents, and thought this was crazy. We were affluent and had been able to give our kids a lot already. Now, we were setting them up for success when they started Grade 1.
But in Saint John's scruffier neighbourhoods, or in rural communities, the children who really could benefit from kindergarten didn't get the chance.
Imagine how awful it would be to show up for the first day of Grade 1 and find out a bunch of the other kids - the ones who had been to kindergarten - knew what to do, and you didn't. You're six. You figure you're just not as smart.
That was the column, and it was good. I was in charge and our papers kept on writing about public kindergarten.
I left Saint John for a job in another province. But a few months after I'd headed down the road, New Brunswick introduced public kindergarten for all five-year-olds. And Frank McKenna, the premier of the day, sent a kind note saying that when he had wavered on the change - an expensive hit for a poor province - he had reread some of the pieces from our newspaper.
Which leads, in a twisty way, back to B.C. In the throne speech in February, Gordon Campbell committed the government to "assess the feasibility and costs of full school day kindergarten for five-year- olds."
Campbell also promised a look at much more aggressive agenda - optional day-long kindergarten for four-year-olds by 2010, and for three-year-olds by 2012.
It was a bold commitment. But the government appears to be taking a serious look at a great new approach to early childhood education.
Research from the jurisdictions around the world that have tried such early schooling has been overwhelmingly positive. Children benefit academically and socially and the results are long-lasting. Almost all children make gains, but the help is greatest for those kids who start with disadvantages.
Which shouldn't be surprising. A child who grows up in an affluent home, perhaps with a stay-at-home mom, with parents who have experienced academic success, has a lot of advantages heading into school. Those children have likely done art classes and reading groups and already made a lot of progress.
A kid from a poor home, perhaps with parents who don't read all that well themselves, is likely to have much tougher time in those first critical years in school.
The Education Ministry is seeking public comments on the idea. (You can participate; the website is There's been big interest and the deadline has been extended to Aug. 15.
It's a big project and there are lots of questions, like who would teach and what it cost to provide places for 80,000 thee and four-year-olds.
Perhaps the program could start in a targeted away - offered wherever schools consistently perform poorly on FSA tests, for example.
But this is an opportunity to build a brighter future for the province and give a lot of children a better chance to the most of their abilities.
Footnote: Her's one sign the government is serious. The Education Ministry, which had effectively encouraged school closures through its funding program and by requiring districts to come up with large chunks of cash for capital projects, has now told school districts to hang on to underused properties in case space is needed for new kindergartens.


Brenton said...

"Perhaps the program could start in a targeted away - offered wherever schools consistently perform poorly on FSA tests, for example."

A good idea, but something tells me it wouldn't be the poor and underfunded districts that would get the tester sites.

Anonymous said...

We are succeeding in turning our children into mini me's and this is another example. Let kids be kids because this government might be serious but will it be funded or as ususal just another demand on an already stretched Education System

Anonymous said...

This last comment is another example of a refusal to acknowledge the reality that so many kids already don't have the choice to "be kids" because of conditions at home. Paul clearly understands this.

These parents also need help, which is partly what the current Strong Start program is all about.

Also, if you want to thicken your blinders even more, I suppose you can also refuse to do any research on the subject and envision the horrific sight or chaining 3-year-olds into desks whenever you hear the phrase "early learning." But this doesn't even happen in current kindergarten! Talk to any early-learning professional and you'll immediately realize that learning through play and social interaction is the emphasis of any and every modern early-learning program or theory.

I do share the funding concern, however. The key here is that the public needs to be more aware and vocal about this government's underfunding of education, largely through downloading and creating new costs and programs that it refuses to fund.

DPL said...

Great idea and it could help the single working mother with her lack of day care options. Gordon gets visions so let's see the schools properly funded which isn't the case now.He does a lot of talking the sort of peters out

Anonymous said...

DPL has it right. I'd say that Paul's column makes it sound like this is a done deal and that Campbell should be congratulated. I guess we'll have to wait 'till after another election for the Liberals to have time to make all the necessary arrangements - hmmmmn. Good timing Gordon, you appear to have suckered Paul with this one. And Paul, sucking up to Campbell won't improve education for average British Columbians, - only getting rid of him will do that.

BC Liberals Suck said...

This is going to happen soon.
Child care was moved into MCFD a couple of years from the Income Assistance Ministry. Key MCFD personnel have been placed into "Early Learning" leadership positions. I'm guessing there have been or will be meetings starting with the school people.

I tend to agree that early learning, socialization and language development will be beneficial for many children and families. Not every child has the opportunity to have an really stimulating home environment, so this will help some children.

Also, there is no decent system of child care in BC, any improvements are welcome. However it is the BC Liberals modus operandi not to fund things properly though, especially for children. Boy, if you looked at their track record in supports to children and child welfare you would swear the Campbell government doesn't even really like children much.

The other thing to remember is there are a whole lot of empty schools sitting around gathering dust as populations decline. And,
maybe some on-call teachers will get some work as well.

In any event, the government better do some serious consultation with stakeholders or this will tank like many of their other devolutions. I don't know why they keep insisting they are in any way competent in these sorts of things. The nightmare that is CLBC should stand out as a spectacular failure in BC Liberal policy and devolution.

One thing that is imperative is more Head Start type programs in areas that would benefit. We have to start taking much better care of our little ones, all of them. They are here now and have human rights, and they are our future so we should give them the best start in life.

alfie said...

I think we should start a child education as early as five years oldbecause at that period they can talk influencely.

Dawn Steele said...

I wasn't sure what to make of this initially so I've been doing some reading - there are good briefs now out from various groups outlining a variety of perspectives.

I've probably still got much to learn, but it's not looking quite this black and white to me.

- Much has to do with how you approach and design these pre-K programs - there seems to be agreement that it needs to be about play, not structured learning, to be age appropriate.

- Lot's of concern re over-emphasis on standardized measures of "achievement" and worrying about achievement too early, at a time when children naturally develop at different rates. (Reading or counting at 3, 4 or 5 not tied to later success...) Relentlessly competitive pressures - Baby Einstein, Mozart for Babies - setting up a culture of winners and losers, stressing even the high achievers and ingraining self-images of failure from Day One.

- What's needed is more high quality daycare vs. more preschool. The lessons learned through play and interaction are the ones that really count - it's not about kids lacking opportunities to "learn" to read and count before age 6 but about how we're responding and stressing out the kids themselves re their "achievement gaps" at an age when such gaps are entirely normal and surmountable.)

- What's being proposed will cost pots of money to do right. Will govt fund this or just stretch current K-12 budgets that much more thinly? Even if we have pots of new money available, the evidence re benefits of doing this universally aren't clear.

- Suggestions re a more targeted approach that focuses on the huge gaps in K-3 (early assessment and intervention during those crucial years, which is grossly underfunded) and/or on expanding quality daycare and pre-K intervention to serve more vulnerable kids & families.

-Teachers say they're not equipped to teach 3 and 4 year olds & that it's a job better left to the ECE people.

- That doesn't mean pre-k programs can't be housed in half-empty schools. That's a great idea - but it's not as simply as just moving in (building codes for daycare/preschool or even after-school programs are far more demanding than for K-12 public schools, as we found out while trying to establish an after-school program at my son's elementary school!).

- We already have a jumbled, poorly coordinated, and grossly underfunded patchwork of early childhood development programs for kids 0 - 6, with huge gaps, especially for kids with special needs/vulnerabilities. Why not fix what you've got & build on/expand successful programs instead of reinventing the wheel?

First Call Child & Youth Advocacy Coalition represents a broad and diverse group of stakeholders that serve children and youth in BC. They also understand this issue from both the Education side and the Early Childhood Development side. I'd highly recommend reading their brief on this issue as a starting point.

You can find it here: