Take over daycares, Ontario schools told

Major report proposes sweeping changes to meld daycare and kindergarten into full-day program

June 14, 2009

Kristin Rushowy



Ontario parents of 4- and 5-year-olds should be able to leave their children at school from 7:30 in the morning to 6 p.m. as part of sweeping changes bringing daycare and kindergarten under one roof, the Star has learned.

A long-awaited report by Charles Pascal on full-day learning, to be released tomorrow, calls for a massive shakeup in children's services that would see the Ministry of Education take full responsibility for learning from birth to young adulthood, sources say.

For families, it would mark the beginning of the so-called "seamless day," where parents drop off and pick up their children in one location; kids then spend the day in one building, their school, instead of being ferried back and forth between class and child care. Research has shown that especially for younger children, the fewer transitions, the better.

Canada has long been criticized by international organizations for its lack of coordination in early childhood care and ranks last among developed nations in spending in that area. Child development guru Dr. Fraser Mustard has described the uncoordinated patchwork of programs that exists across the country as a "chaotic mess."

During the 2003 election, Premier Dalton McGuinty promised full-day kindergarten but made no progress during his first term. Then, in November 2007, he named Pascal, a former deputy minister of education, to advise him on an implementation plan.

It is widely expected that Pascal's proposals will bring early childhood educators into the classroom to work alongside teachers, as has been successfully piloted in the Toronto First Duty program at Bruce Jr. Public School. But it is unclear how the union representing Ontario's elementary teachers will react as its leaders have said their members should be the only ones teaching kindergarten.

About 240,000 children are in junior or senior kindergarten classes across the province, which typically run for half the day, or 2 1/2 hours.

Some northern Ontario and French boards already have full-day, everyday kindergarten and Toronto's Catholic board has run a highly popular full-time kindergarten program staffed by teachers in a handful of schools since 2004.

Toronto's public board runs 15 sites where kindergarten and child care work hand in hand in some form in a full-day program, and the Peel public board also uses the model in several locations.

"It's worked really well, the combination of classroom teachers taking the lead in the program, and the early childhood educators being the support" and bringing their expertise in child development, said Jim Grieve, director of education for the Peel District School Board.

Full-day learning would be phased in across the province, giving schools time to grapple with space and staffing. "It could, for some boards, be extremely expensive because of all of the facility issues," said Jill Worthy, a superintendent with the Toronto District School Board responsible for the early years.

Different Ontario boards "are all at various stages in our readiness to move forward, depending on what the vision looks like."

Toronto's public board already has more than 300 child-care centres in its schools and many partnerships with community agencies, "which makes it easier for us to blend programs," Worthy added.

She is hoping if implementation is phased in, the board would put a priority on needier areas. Indeed, the province's poverty reduction plan, said Pascal, "will advise the government on the best way that part of the first phase of implementation gives priority to children in low-income neighbourhoods."

Parents have been known to keep their children out of kindergarten if they can't find a daycare situation that works, Worthy added.

"... I spend lots of time on the phone with parents who are utterly frustrated; they know where they want their child to go, but the child care in the school is full, the wait lists are phenomenal and the wait lists for subsidies are phenomenal. What that means is parents having to put together a patchwork of arrangements, and as an entry for a child into the school system, it is nerve-racking."

Pascal's recommendation to create an early years division within the Ministry of Education has long been called for by Mustard, a Canadian recognized around the globe for his work in child development.

He has been frustrated by the "friction" and resulting lack of action when there are separate ministries for children's issues and education, while the two are so closely linked.

Toronto Star


Commentary by the Ottawa Mens Centre

Sometimes government needs to make major changes that will obviously encounter objections and even prior to this "long-awaited report by Charles Pascal on full-day learning" we can see opinions and conclusions being formed that take Yea or Na but actually have many common concerns. Early education programs will probably have different staff from teachers and probably with age groups separated. A common location is necessary simply to cut down the incredible traffic congestion created by the mad mass transportation of kids between school and day care that could be largely eliminated by a common location care and elementary school. There is a lot of merit in the "state run" day care that is still universal in many former communist countries because its a system that works very well.