In NS- Some Big Questions Surround Pre-Primary Rollout….

In today’s  Herald, read this  (press here for link)

OPINION: Some big questions surround pre-primary rollout
Published September 6, 2017 – 5:00am
Last Updated September 6, 2017 – 7:17am

While the pre-primary program is welcome news for many parents, the program seems to be rolling out with little consultation and limited forethought. (Fotolia)
While the pre-primary program is welcome news for many parents, the program seems to be rolling out with little consultation and limited forethought. (Fotolia)
The new school year is almost upon us and over the course of September, four-year-olds (and some three-year-olds) will begin pre-primary programs at 43 public elementary schools.

While the pre-primary program is welcome news for many parents, given the current cost of full-time child care ($800-$900 a month), the program seems to be rolling out with little consultation and limited forethought.

Prior to this spring, the government’s approach to expanding access to pre-primary education was largely limited to the gradual expansion of Early Years Centres (four centres opened in 2014-15 and 4 more opened in 2015-16). Evaluations of those programs supported the position of most educators and specialists that quality early-years programs are a major factor in school preparedness; however those same evaluations raised important questions about hiring and program accessibility. If it was difficult and time-consuming to hire local qualified early childhood educators for those eight new programs, why should we believe school boards will be able to hire qualified staff for more than 20 new programs this year alone?

Though the idea of universal free pre-primary programs is good, we are somewhat skeptical of how this process is unfolding. In addition to the question already posed above, we also have the following questions/concerns:

1. What does lunch time (or recess, or a fire drill) look like with children as young as three in classrooms led by instructors who are not integrated into the school’s teaching teams, or under the leadership of the principal/school administration?

2. Parents are responsible for transportation. Does that mean no exceptions will be made for busing children living in rural areas?

3. Will there be a two-tier system in schools with early childhood education teachers working the same hours, but getting paid a lower rate by the same school boards that employ teachers for students in grades P-12?

4. Child-care centres have already raised a red flag to say that if their four-year-old children leave for the fee-free pre-primary program, some will have difficulty surviving. In fact, we believe a reasonable investment would be to increase subsidies for non-profit child-care centres to support them in better serving communities and growing their capacity to serve families that often need coveted child-care spaces for infants and toddlers.

5. What have the people crafting this program learned from history? Have they had conversations with African Nova Scotian early childhood educators, or with Indigenous educators about this policy and its goals, given the similarity to programs like 4+ (which had some of its funding cut) and the Mi’kmaq Child Development Centre which still currently offers Aboriginal Head Start and culturally appropriate early-years programming?

6. Has the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development incorporated any lessons learned from the previous pre-primary pilot programs that have been initiated and subsequently defunded over the last three decades?

7. Has the Council to Improve Classroom Conditions been consulted about the addition of dozens of three- to four-year-olds to elementary school communities?

8. Will parents now find themselves with fewer, more expensive child-care options in the future?

9. Will there still be subsidies and supports for families to cover the more than $5,000 it will cost for child care during summer, March, and winter breaks (in addition to PD days, snow days, and the added costs for miscellaneous items like packing a lunch every day)?

These are just some of our questions that remain unanswered, and likely the start of a very long list.

Judy Haiven and Tina Roberts-Jeffers are members of Nova Scotia Parents for Public Education, a citizens’ group concerned about the cultivation of a robust and responsive public school system. To contact them, go to the Facebook page or call 902-718-7445.

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