Full-day kindergarten: really needed?
CRITICS OF FULL-DAY KINDERGARTEN see it as merely an expensive form of daycare that the deficit-ridden Ontario government simply cannot afford to maintain, much less expand.
However, our hunch is that Premier Dalton McGuinty will stick to his guns on the subject, even if the Toronto Sun was correct in saying its elimination has been recommended by consultant Don Drummond.
The Sun article said Mr. Drummond, the economist given the job of finding ways to tackle Ontario’s current $16 billion deficit, will suggest scrapping all-day kindergarten in his report, which is expected to be released shortly.
Nearly 800 schools already have all-day kindergarten, which the government has been phasing in since the 2010-11 school year. The government spent $200 million to implement the program and is spending another $300 million this school year, to make the program available to roughly half Ontario’s four- and five-year-olds.
During the last election campaign, the governing Liberals said the all-day program would cost taxpayers about $1.5 billion a year when fully implemented in all 4,000 elementary schools by 2015.
Although criticized as a luxury the province simply can’t afford, the program was reluctantly endorsed by Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak after he got a hostile reaction to his suggestion that its expansion should be postponed until the economy improved.
Locally, Orangeville’s Princess Margaret Public School is the only Upper Grand District School Board school offering full-day kindergarten, but Parkinson Centennial is to have it next September, and all the board’s schools are currently scheduled to have it by September 2014. Meanwhile, all the other schools have half-day programs.
Similarly, St. Peter Elementary School is currently the only Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board school with the program.
Although only time will tell just how successful or otherwise the program is, a recent St. Catharines Standard article reported strong support from parents who have children in it.
Megan Vanderlee of Virgil told the Standard her five-year-old son John currently spends full days in class at St. Michael’s School and loves it, and not just because he’s having fun. “His reading skills are phenomenal. It blows my mind every time he reads.”
While being in school full-time was a little overwhelming at first, she said John has adapted well. “It’s such a great environment. You see progress every day.”
Perhaps the McGuinty government ought to point out that full-day kindergarten simply returns the province to what it once had – 13 grades – before Grade 13 was eliminated, and the appropriate target will see children learning as much in kindergarten as they used to in Grade 1.
Two places where the government could achieve savings would be a marginal increase in class sizes and substitution of volunteers for early childhood educators who command salaries of up to $30 an hour assisting the teachers.
There’s surely no doubt that children can be good learners well before they reach four years of age, or that the home-schooling once available to them is long gone in an era when both parents must have jobs to pay the family’s bills.
That said, as we see it the appropriate course for the government will be to proceed with its plan, while exploring every avenue to reduce its cost to taxpayers.