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OPINION: Liberals’ pre-Primary plan suffers from total lack of planning

The announcement of pre-Primary education was hastily presented by the Liberals, without any real researched evidence, just a price tag of the savings ($10,000) for parents with a four-year-old. There was no consultation with current early-childhood directors and educators with regard to the best implementation of the programming — or with the early elementary and specialist teachers in the school system.
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"Many of the educational announcements in the re-elected Liberals' campaign platform seem to contradict the current research on when to initiate formal education for children. The trend outside of Canada is to commence later, not sooner, " writes Shawn Hanifen. (liberal.ns.ca)

By SHAWN HANIFEN

The health-care crisis in Nova Scotia has reached epidemic proportions. As the husband of an RN who works in Halifax, I can tell you that this crisis is a reality, whether the Liberal government wants to admit to it or not.

I hope professionals and patients who are experiencing the realities of the health-care system bring their stories forward to shed light on the situation. It needs real attention, not broken promises that seem to be the norm rather than the exception.

Similarly, as an educator, I see the Band-Aid approach to education as setting up another pathway toward a crisis. The passing of Bill 75, which imposed a contract on public school educators, has left a sour taste in many teachers’ mouths on a personal and professional level. This pales in comparison to the angst many educational professionals are feeling about the next school year.

Many of the educational announcements in the re-elected Liberals' campaign platform seem to contradict the current research on when to initiate formal education for children. The trend outside of Canada is to commence later, not sooner. Many European countries set the age of formal schooling at seven.

The announcement of pre-Primary education was hastily presented by the Liberals, without any real researched evidence — just a price tag of the savings ($10,000) for parents with a four-year-old. There was no consultation with current early-childhood directors and educators with regard to the best implementation of the programming — or with the early elementary and specialist teachers in the school system who have the greatest hands-on experience with the various types of “play” and the benefits of each.

In fact, the the Liberal announcement itself is evidence of this lack of understanding, in that it only suggests very limited “play” activities that are more early-childhood-based  — play, objects and limited symbolic methods of play — rather than incorporating those programs with other rich examples of play (there are five of them) that also include physical, socio-dramatic and games with rules.

These types of play tend to be focused on more so in early elementary — through classroom and specialist (music, physical education, etc.) supports that may not be available for pre-Primary, depending on the criteria set by the government through the Education and Early Childhood Development Department.

In addition, there is already a lack of resources and supports in the schools within the system. If these pre-Primary programs are linked to schools without proper funding formulas and better allocation of departmental funding, they will become a burden.

For example, elementary schools already have a dire need for more space for physical education classes, yet there seems to be a lack of forethought when it comes to building new schools with either two large gymnasiums, or one large one that can be divided. This should have been a priority a decade ago, when obesity levels in children became a cause for concern.

In addition to combating that problem, the extra “gym space” would have been beneficial for the physical and games-with-rules types of play. But it also would have allowed for elementary programming to reach the 100-minutes-per-week mark specified in the Time to Learn directives, with no decrease in the quality of the programming. Oversight in areas like these will result in watered-down programming that benefits no one.

The development of pre-Primary, on a conceptual basis, would seem like a win-win situation for both government and the public. But without sound organization behind it, it will have too many variables and challenges for effective implementation.

These challenges stretch throughout both realms of the Education and Early Childhood Development Department —  from the early childhood education to the elementary public schooling side of things. These are two separate stakeholders within the department, and it is feared that the current criteria and policies will be changed, blended or even ignored to hastily implement the government commitment. Also, the fear is that any concerns or requested supports will be simply passed off as “union issues,” instead of actual challenges that need to be collaboratively supported for proper implementation.

Sadly, collaboration has not been the preferred method of the current government; instead, it is more of a “divide and conquer” approach. Current policies in early childhood education and public education need to be respected, which, judging from initial announcements, seems not to be the case. The ratio of 25 children with two early childhood educators per class is not meeting the current guidelines of 1 to 8 as suggested by Early Childhood Education Action Group Nova Scotia.

Additionally, which changes will be deemed necessary if these programs are incorporated into Nova Scotia schools? Will there be directors similar to what occurs in daycare centres, or will the administration at each school have additional duties, expectations and workloads? Has there been adequate consultation with regard to the implementation of the program for the initial influx of 750 four-year-olds?

Have the challenges that were documented from the Early Years pilot program even been addressed, with the required supports put in place for the stakeholders?

Have various socio-economic, cultural and geographical challenges been properly investigated when the Early Years Centre model is compared with the public school model?

There seem to be too many variables — not only haven’t they been addressed, they haven’t even been part of the conversation. Hopefully someone starts the conversation before next fall.

Shawn Hanifen is a physical educator who lives in Hammonds Plains.



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