Last week’s announcement about all-day early learning was an important first step on the path to a whole new system for young children and their families. But it was definitely only a first step, and a tentative one at that.
We will have all-day learning, but there is less progress on the development of an overall structure and vision for programs for children from birth to 12.
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To date, 580 schools have been announced for full-day programs for 4 and 5 year olds; a new Early Learning division has been created in the Ministry of Education; some exciting work is being done on a new curriculum for the program, and $200 million has been allocated for 2010/11. But progress is much slower on other recommendations from the Premier’s Advisor on Early Learning.
The report to the Premier recommended that the Ministry of Education take leadership over programs and supports for children from birth to adolescence. It also recommended creating Child and Family Centres in schools, which would provide family support services including integrated child care programs for children from birth to 4, as well as before and after school and summer programs for children 6 to 12.
Who will run the full year programs, and who will pay?
Rather than funding a full year of services for children, the Ontario government is giving school boards funding for only the 188 days a year that schools normally operate and leaving it to boards to decide whether or not the program will operate all year.
Most of the funding for before and after school, PD days, school breaks and summer programs are to be covered through parent fees, as recommended by the Premier’s Advisor, but as yet there appears to be no funding from the province to either start up or administer these new programs. Extended day and summer programs for 6 to 12 year olds are a key component of the vision, but there are no details yet on how they will be coordinated or funded.
Salaries for Early Childhood Educators will also be an issue in most school boards. The province has agreed to pay approximately $19 per hour for ECEs, but in many boards these trained staff are, or will be, paid in the range of $25 per hour. Boards will have to make up the gap.
It was always understood that the new vision for early learning would have an impact on existing child care programs. But it was anticipated that the new plan would also generate savings that municipalities could use to restructure those programs. Without funding for year round school programs, and without funding for a living wage for ECEs, these savings will not materialize.
What needs to happen next?
Structure and program design may sound a bit boring, and it might not seem important which Ministry controls which program for children, but figuring out the “bones” of the new program is vital. If we get the scaffolding in place, we’ll ensure that all the components fit together neatly, cohesively and coherently. If we build this thing right, it will be a revolutionary step down the road to better futures for all children.
At People for Education we are going to keep track of the recommendations in the report from the Premier’s Advisor and let you know about them as they’re implemented.