Pros & cons of Ontario’s full-day kindergarten

Recently, based on the Charles Pascal “With Our Best Future in Mind” report, the Ontario McGuinty government announced that it would be providing Ontario parents with an optional full-day junior and senior kindergarten program. Beginning in September 2010 with 35,000 four-and-five year olds,  the Early Learning Program (ELP) would be phased in gradually and fully implemented by 2015/16.

Like most educators and parents, I would agree with Ontario’s Education Minister’s online motherhood and apple pie statement that:

Giving young students an earlier start on their learning will improve their reading, writing and math skills, provide a smoother transition to Grade 1 and help increase their success in school and beyond.”

However, as with all government social programs and feel-good statements aside, Ontarians need to make sure that the ELP is based, not only on a clearly researched and articulated justification, but with measures of academic achievement and taxpayer accountability in place as well. So, here then are some pros and cons on Ontario’s proposed full-day kindergarten program. 

Rationale & Justification (Pro)

I have no problem with the Ontario ELP itself.  I have re-read the Charles Pascal report and the information on the Ministry website.

Based on that analysis, I have come to the conclusion that there is very little anyone can say against the goals for such a program because it is meant to provide universal access to learning and play opportunities for all young children, particularly those adversely affected by poverty, special needs and/or discrimination. 

Universality (Pro & Con)

No doubt for families living in the City of Toronto or surrounding GTA, the universal nature of the ELP is a plus. However, from my point of view, what is needed in those heavily populated areas may not be needed in other Ontario cities and rural communities. As such, there should have been a preliminary pilot project, say with 10 downtown Toronto schools, to examine which features and techniques work, which don’t and how much it all costs. And, it should have been established whether or not full-day kindergarten is necessary throughtout the entire province. Meaning, that in my opinion, the universality of the ELP could be considered both pro and con. 

Teacher vs ECE Instructor Turf War (Con)

ETFO members, qualified elementary school teachers, normally teach half-day JK and SK and all grades from 1 to 8. Why then is it necessary to have them teach full days when ECE instructors would be very well qualified to teach discovery and play for half of those days? In fact, by giving in to the teachers’ union (ETFO), the government has not only doubled its costs, it has established a precedent that, with enough pressure, it will give in to whatever the teachers’ unions want — definitely a negative.

As a former teacher educator, as well as one who taught ECE instructors in an undergraduate course, I can confirm that ECE graduates would be the best qualified to deal with the developmental stages of very young children. Therefore, a half day of play, learning and resting under the direction and supervision of an ECE instructor could have been combined with a half day of an introductory academic curriculum with an elementary school teacher, thereby transitioning children into Grade One.

Cost to Taxpayers (Con)

Why is the Ontario government implementing the ELP in a full-speed ahead manner at a time when there an economic slowdown and Ontario’s deficit is already $25 billion? It should have waited until the economy turned around and the deficit was reduced if not eliminated. The reality is we have managed with the system we have to this point. Yet, now it will take much longer, if ever, to balance the province’s books. 

Universal Childcare Political Agenda (Pro & Con)

The ELP is a universal childcare program by any other name. Yet, any time you listen to either Premier McGuinty or Education Ministry Kathleen Wynn, they deny that is what it is — to some a negative. For example, here is what the Pascal report states on page 5:

Parents would have the option of extended programming before and after the traditional school day and year, not as an add-on, but as part of the Early Learning Program.”

Moreover, as with any child care program, parents will be expected to pay a small fee for the extended hours. In other words, the ELP is a universal child care program integrated with schooling. For many parents, that will obviously be a positive factor.

Also positive is the voluntary optional nature of the ELP. Parents can chose whether or not to include their children. In fact, in Ontario, education is not compulsory until a child reaches the age of six. 

So, while the pros of the ELP may, at the end of the day, far outweigh the cons, the negative considerations — the cost, the reality that it is actually a universal child care program and the teacher and ECE turf wars that resulted in teachers full time with ECE support– still needed a public airing, something I am trying to provide here.