Site Search  
RSS feed

Teacher newsmagazine

BCTF Online Museum
BCTF Advantage
Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 20, Number 3, November/December 2007

Early-learning initiatives in BC steeped in politics

BC misses out on a golden opportunity to get it right from the start

By Noel Herron

One-time book handouts to preschoolers, a drop-in program for caregivers masquerading as a genuine Head Start initiative, and to top it off the added embellishment of the minister of education’s title with the add-on of Minister Responsible for Early Learning and Literacy.

As in the recent case of Linda Reid’s (minister of childcare) recent booster seat for needy families’ fiasco, all of BC’s early-learning projects to date are primarily designed for maximum political exposure with minimum educational or social benefits.

Given the new StatsCan listing pointing to the dramatic increase in child poverty in BC and the premier’s own recent progress board report showing that the province ranks near the bottom of the social indicator’s category in Canada (9th out of 10 provinces), the BC Liberals’ approach to early-learning and preschool programs is nothing short of cynical manipulation.

Just over three years ago, the current provincial government wanted to slash the already inadequate provincial funding allocation to school boards for inner-city schools, only to be stopped cold by a coalition of angry Vancouver parents, teachers, trustees, and community groups.

Out of BC’s 1.1 million households, currently 177,935 are lone-parent families struggling to make ends meet. The fact remains that while one-in-four children in BC continues to live in poverty, Victoria continues to ratchet up whopping surpluses year after year.

This should be of deep concern to the general public.

In order to give the appearance of doing something on the social services and education files, this province treats us to a series of superficial gestures and so-called policy initiatives.

Some of these are photo ops—ministers of education delivering new textbooks to schools, a minister of childcare (including the premier and attorney general) handing out booster seats to representatives of disadvantaged kids, plus the ongoing handouts of over-the-top press releases proclaiming that the province is becoming the "most literate jurisdiction in North America."

With early learning in BC, it’s quite simply a case of crass politics triumphing over sound educational practices.

The expansion of the Liberals’ blatantly mislabelled "Strong Start" preschool program in school districts across the province is the government’s answer to its stated concern in the Throne Speech that, "currently 25% of children (in BC) are not ready to learn when they enter Kindergarten."

Placed under the jurisdiction of local school boards to lend them a semblance of educational credibility, the three-hour-drop-in "Strong Start Centres" don’t even remotely resemble genuine head-start programs in other Canadian or American jurisdictions.

The cognitive boost in early childhood programs, so amply demonstrated in long-established, genuine, head-start programs with well-trained teachers at the helm, have been reinforced time and again in longitudinal studies in the United States (Head Start from 1965) and in Britain (Sure Start from 1997).

With "Strong Start" in BC, stay-at-home parents (this excludes most of the province’s 170,000 single parent families), or grandparents must accompany their three- or four-year-olds to these centres during the day.

In reality, these are limited babysitting services masquerading as early childhood programs for those able to attend. They are totally divorced from the contemporary working world needs of today’s parents. (The current crisis in the availability of childcare spaces for working parents is yet another example of the gap between the real world and government policies).

At the start of the current school year, an estimated 8,500 (of the projected 35,000) Kindergarten students entered our public schools lacking readiness for regular schooling.

Experienced Kindergarten teachers tell us that many of these students have a limited vocabulary, a poor understanding of colour, letters, numbers, sizes and shapes, and are often far behind many of their peers.

Their ability to listen and to follow the simplest routines is frequently a struggle for them.

Sadly, their attainment gap widens as many of them advance into intermediate grades.

At the start of the current school year, Hilel Goldman of UBC’s Early Learning partnership called for "a pre-Kindergarten program that would be available to all BC children," to be put in place.

Across the border recently, two leading Democratic candidates for the US presidency, Hilary Clinton and John Edwards, joined a chorus of early-childhood education advocates, governors, foundation, and social activists promoting the cause of universal pre-Kindergarten programs.

Here in BC, when one compares the present faltering and highly politicized early-childhood initiatives with solid, long-term, national and international programs one quickly realizes how far we have fallen behind other jurisdictions.

And, more importantly, how much we are short-changing some of the most vulnerable kids in our educational system.

Up to now we have missed a golden opportunity to get it right from the start with our preschool kids.

Pre-Kindergarten at Strathcona Elementary

Pictured above is teacher Evelyn Tam with her pre-Kindergarten class in Lord Strathcona Elementary School, Vancouver. This is one of a handful of pre-Kindergarten classes for four-year-olds run by school boards in BC. (The Ministry of Education maintains no record of pre-Kindergarten classes, simply a listing of its recently established "Strong Start" programs.) The pre-Kindergarten class at Strathcona has been in existence for 16 years and, together with its all-day Kindergarten, comprises the school’s early-learning program for this inner-city school.

Principal, Jim Ion, views his pre-Kindergarten class as "the jewel in the crown of our early-learning program.

"This class, with its fully developed curriculum, has been a tremendous developmental support to our regular Kindergarten program. The pre-Kindergarten kids are better prepared to learn, to socialize, and to enjoy school when they enter Kindergarten. Before taking the class, pre-schoolers in Strathcona are assessed by UBC’s Dr.Clyde Hertzman as the least prepared for Kindergarten in the City of Vancouver. So our staff and parents greatly appreciate having this program at Strathcona."

Noel Herron a former Vancouver principal and school trustee authored "Every Kid Counts," a history of Vancouver’s inner-city schools.

  • FacebookTwitterYouTube
  • TeachBC
  • BCTF Online Museum
  • BCTF Advantage