Full day kindergarten: It's about equality
The economic returns from investing in young children have proven to be high. Nobel laureates in many nations have illustrated the historical shift from developing economic planning models to investing in Early Child Development (ECD) as a high priority.
Canadian scholar Fraser Mustard proposes that effective ECD programs that are available to all population sectors improve the well-being of society by reducing inequities, particularly in health and education. Andy Hargreaves supports these types of school-based initiatives in Teaching in the Knowledge Society. “Schools are in a key position,” he says,” to prepare all children for a public – not just private – knowledge economy and society where they can thrive”. He proposes that this responsibility must be shared by all social sectors to create equity for all children.
The equity gap in BC schools
In 2008, approximately 25% of BC’s five-year-olds entered Kindergarten developmentally challenged by the curriculum in at least one of five domains, as identified by the EDI (Early Development Instrument). Many educators believe that the high school students who failed or dropped out of school are the same early learners who arrived at Kindergarten challenged by formal learning experiences - children for whom there was no successful school intervention. UBC's Human Early Learning Partnership (HELP) has been able to prove this connection at least between kindergarten and grades four and seven by linking the EDI and Foundation Skills Assessment (FSA) results.
Inequality starts early
Approximately 79% of parent couples in Canada both work but there are licensed childcare spaces for approximately 12% of the child population. Other children may be cared for by relatives, neighbours, and unlicensed and unsupervised childcare providers, some of which operate in garages, basements and less-than-desirable facilities.
Approximately 20% of BC’s children live in poverty. Their families or single parents (which account for approximately 21% of the population) cannot afford any kind of childcare even if it were available. Poverty is associated with poor social indicators. Without basic nutrition, health care and the stimulation needed to promote healthy growth, these children often enter Kindergarten at a distinct disadvantage.
New immigrants who need English as a Second Language (ESL) instruction make additional demands on the BC school system, especially on the lower mainland. Many children enrol in their first day of kindergarten unable to speak English. In addition, economic crises have resulted in desperate conditions for some young families. More children are arriving at the school door hungry and neglected. The gap in developmental trajectories widen accordingly.
All children face multiple challenges on their first day of school; some just face more than others. Stuart Shanker reminds us of the complexities children face when they move from a nurturing and regulated care environment to the first day of a public school experience. Ideally, he says, all children should have the capacity to:
- Attach to a new adult who will play surrogate parent for most of the day
- Conform to classroom rules and routines while mastering many new skills
- Maintain a calm and self-regulated state in the face of “newness”
- Understand what other children are thinking and feeling in social interactions
- Control emotional outbursts
Imagine the confusion and overwhelming emotions of the child who is also physically, emotionally, socially, and cognitively or language challenged.
Full day kindergarten is a “Gift of Time” to children who need all the time available to them in their first year of school. It is a motivating and inspiring introduction to the land of formal learning. It allows for a period of social and emotional adjustment to classroom environments and for the teacher to identify any necessary intervention. It provides high-quality care for parents who cannot find or afford a satisfactory care experience for their children.