||Volume 22, Number 5, March 2010
A badly botched Kindergarten plan
By Noel Herron
Full-day Kindergarten delayed is full-day Kindergarten denied
It will take four years from the time the BC Liberals first announced their intention in the Speech from the Throne in 2007 before all of BC’S eligible five-year-olds can gain entry into full-day Kindergarten in public schools.
In other words universal, full-day, Kindergarten will not be in place in BC schools until the fall of 2010.
The staggered two-year entry plan—40% entry this coming September followed by the remaining 60% entry in 2011—is hardly the “splash” Education Minister Margaret McDiarmid boasted about. It leaves local renamed boards of education (note the new moniker for school boards, which is really an empty political rebranding without tangible support) and local school principals to explain why some schools have full-day Kindergarten and others do not.
While our education minister was busy recently explaining to the media that the parents she spoke to whose children were planning to enter next September were delighted with the plan, she conveniently ignored the thousands of parents who will not be able to gain entry for their children until 2011 due to Victoria’s ill-advised split entry plan. And then it will be too late for these children as the opportunity has passed them by.
This is an education minister who needs to be reminded that the parents unable to gain entry to their local school this coming September will view full-day Kindergarten delayed as full-day Kindergarten denied to their children. In Richmond, this number is estimated at 641, while in Surrey the number unable to gain entry is projected to be 1,200. Vancouver’s estimate rises to 1,394.
And how about the inequitable situation next September between parents of children unable to gain entry, while some of their childrens’ friends are admitted to a full-day program?
Even the number of classes approved by Victoria for local boards appears to vary considerably adding yet another inequitable dimension to the mix.
BC is the only province in Canada using a delayed, split entry, implementation plan that leads to unacceptable situations such as this.
Sadly, these are not the only problems associated with this long delayed and inept implementation in our province’s early childhood scene. Lack of space, inadequate resources, and poor advance planning mean that the proper introduction of this much-needed change falls far short of the minimum standards required.
Both the provincial teachers’ (BCTF) and trustees’ organizations (BCSTA) have voiced strong reservations about the underfunding and space requirements needed.
Based on their past bitter experience and fearing a return of the Rob-Peter-to-pay-Paul approach repeatedly used by Victoria, BCSTA’s provincial council unanimously passed, at its October 2009 meeting, the following motion from the Prince George (SD 57) board:
“That BCSTA request that until the Government of British Columbia provides full, predictable and stable funding to support K–12 education, the Government of British Columbia defer the implementation of full-day Kindergarten and redirect the $150 million (over three years) allocation of funds to current programming.”
The massive shortfalls in the current K–12 system, recently estimated at $300 million, not covered by provincial funding, underscore the concerns of BCSTA members.
Announcing, in the 2007 speech from the throne, that one in four of preschoolers lack readiness for school entry and knowing that the introduction of a province-wide full-day Kindergarten program would require extra classroom space, Victoria gave no consideration to imposing a moratorium on the ongoing parade of school closures. Indeed boards may be compelled to close an estimated eight more schools.
With the late September cancellation of the annual facilities grants to school boards, the appropriate upgrading or modification of regular classrooms (suitable furniture, installation of sinks, purchase of early childhood materials, and supplies) to receive the first wave of full-day Kindergarten simply won’t happen in most cash-strapped boards.
And what about the professional development workshops and in-service for teachers transitioning from half–day Kindergarten to full-day Kindergarten or teachers new to this program? This is not even included in the provincial plan.
Most disturbing of all, is the lack of provincial leadership in developing an age-appropriate, full-day Kindergarten curriculum. Instead of employing the curriculum expertise of provincial partners and college and university personnel to this end, there has been a total abdication of responsibility, despite claims to the contrary.
Providing school boards with contemporary curriculum guidelines backed up with innovative seed funding for early learning is simply not on in this province.
The haphazard and badly botched implementation approach to the first extension of full-day Kindergarten programs is now on view for all to see. It is reflective of the low priority that the BC Liberals accord overall early learning in this province.
For example, there is not a single government sponsored pre-Kindergarten class for disadvantaged 4-year-olds in all of BC.
Vancouver has had three such classes for the past 20 years. And the question remains: Will it take another 20 years before targeted pre-school classes reach these needy kids across this province?
For two years Shirley Bond, the previous education minister, talked up a storm about early learning, even mentioning programs for three-year-olds. While this gave the minister great political traction, she ultimately failed to deliver.
How would one evaluate BC’s overall approach to early learning?
In a few words: lightweight, insubstantial, and anchored closely to a public relations agenda.
BC’s record on preschool to date is comprised of book hand-outs (Ready, Set, Learn) and the misnamed Strong Start (an insubstantial, part-time, drop-in, program scattered across the province). Our most vulnerable students—poor kids—get a raw deal in the BC preschool scene.
Clyde Hertzman, president of the Council for Early Childhood Development at UBC, sums it up “…the extension of Kindergarten should be seen as a first step; it needs to be followed by a commitment to provide full-day care through age six at neighbourhood centres. Without this comprehensive approach BC’s children and families are no better off.”
Noel Herron is a former school principal and school trustee.