||Volume 23, Number 5, March 2011
An early care and learning plan that works!
By Rita Chudnovsky
Last spring, the Coalition of Childcare Advocates of BC and the Early Childhood Educators of BC shared, in these pages, our excitement about a new project—“Moving to a System of Integrated Early Care and Learning in BC.”
Our project was motivated, in part, by the implementation of full school day K for 5-year-olds and an undefined provincial government promise of programs for 3- and 4-year-olds to follow.
While the extension of universal, publicly funded, democratically controlled services to young children is long overdue, we were alarmed that BC was proceeding with no recognition or inclusion of our existing community childcare programs.
So, rather than wait for government to impose a plan, we took the initiative of developing Our Emerging Plan for an Integrated System of Early Care and Learning in BC.
Our emerging plan builds on what is already well known.
First—families need quality childcare and quality childcare IS early learning.
Unfortunately, BC’s childcare crisis has gone from bad to worse. Fees are too high and now account for the 2nd highest family expense—right after housing. BC families spend more on childcare than on post-secondary education. Wait lists are too long. While over 75% of mothers are working or studying—we still only have licensed spaces for 20% of BC children. As a result, too many children are not getting quality early years experience—as is evident in the growing number of vulnerable children entering Kindergarten. And, the wages of college-trained early childhood educators’ are too low, forcing many to leave the field because they cannot support their own families.
Secondly—full-school-day Kindergarten does not meet the needs of most families who need full-day, full-year quality early care and learning for their children. We are also concerned that it has been implemented with no reduction in Kindergarten class sizes, making it very challenging for Kindergarten teachers to offer a play-based full-day program.
Finally, we know that young children thrive in play-based environments that support their holistic development. The potential for a downward extension of a narrow academic school-readiness focus is not in their interests.
Here’s how our eight-point emerging plan offers a way to do a much better job.
1. Enact a new Early Care and Learning Act to enshrine the rights of young children and their families to access services that meet their needs
A new Early Care and Learning Act that enshrines young children’s right to access quality early care and learning programs is the right thing to do and honours our commitments in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. A new act will guarantee families’ access to, and meaningful involvement in, services for their children and the right of First Nation and Aboriginal communities to control their own early care and learning programs. And, a new act governing early care and learning brings childcare into an integrated system as a strong and equal partner.
2. Create a new home for all early care and learning programs—whether located in schools or the community—in the Ministry of Education
Education offers a universal, publicly funded, democratically governed system with relatively high levels of public support and a well respected and fairly paid workforce. Our plan builds on these strengths without moving young children into academic “readiness” programs or traditional school programs before they start Kindergarten.
3. Create early care and learning plans developed by local boards of education with stakeholders’ involvement
In our plan, democratically elected boards of education would govern all early care and learning services in their communities—whether located in schools or not.
They would work with parents, early childhood educators, and local governments to develop Early Care and Learning Plans. These plans would guide the integration of existing group and family childcare and pre-schools into the new system and the development of new services.
4. Create new early years centres, a more appropriate alternative response to the needs of young children than part-time junior or pre-Kindergarten
Early years centres is a new name for the places where children from birth to age five participate in part- or full-day early care and learning programs while their families are at work, school, or home. Early years centres would be staffed by qualified early childhood educators. Over time, early years centres will become places that communities can and do feel proud of—just like libraries, parks, and schools.
5. Move forward with accountability
Our emerging plan builds on the strengths of the school system and existing childcare services.
Family childcare, group centers, and preschools could affiliate into early years centres. School boards would develop more early years centres to meet unmet needs. These centres would be funded to meet five accountability measures:
- cap parent fees at affordable levels
- raise early childhood educators’ wages and education levels
- include all children
- meet identified community needs
- offer play-based programs that support children’s holistic development.
6. Enhance Kindergarten and Grade 1
Children would still begin school at age five, but our plan creates a bridge between early years centres and schools by bringing qualified early childhood educators into Kindergarten and Grade 1 to work alongside teachers. The early childhood educators would be able to provide a full-day program for those families who want it—without having to bus young children from one location to another.
7. Support early childhood educators’ to move toward parity with teachers through improved education
The research is clear—qualified early childhood educators are key to quality early care and learning programs. Our plan calls for a move, over time, to a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education as a new educational standard for the field.
8. New resources
We understand the pressures on our K–12 system. We know teachers face the same challenges the early childhood education sector knows all too well—too few resources in the face of growing needs. That is why our plan calls for an investment of new resources to build the early care and learning system we can all be proud of.
The momentum grows
Over the last six months, we have briefed over 25 BC communities about our emerging plan. In over 50 sessions, we shared our plan with hundreds of parents, early childhood educators, teachers, school trustees, municipal and provincial policymakers, labour unions, and concerned citizens.
You can view a webinar briefing at www.vimeo.com/17228473 and download the emerging plan at www.cccabc.bc.ca/cccabcdocs/ integrated/files/emerging_plan_2010.pdf.
The interest, enthusiasm, and positive response have been overwhelming. While people have questions and there are details to work out, most are excited about the potential of the plan and want policymakers to give it serious consideration.
Based on this feedback, we are now finalizing our plan. We are moving quickly to ensure that the ideas in our plan are part of the public dialogue as a new premier and leader of the Opposition take office. Then, we begin the exciting work of building broader support and mobilizing communities to impel decision-makers to act.
We look forward to continuing to work closely with the BCTF and BC teachers to move forward with this concrete, innovative, and ambitious agenda.
Rita Chudnovsky, Coalition of Childcare Advocates of BC.