By Thaddeus M. Baklinski
TORONTO, June 15, 2009 (LifeSiteNews.com) - A sweeping change that would combine day care with kindergarten in Ontario schools is being proposed by Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty. The plan would allow parents of 4- and 5-year-olds to leave their children at school from 7:30 in the morning to 6 in the evening.
The proposal to create a single full-day program in Ontario as early as September, 2010, is the result of a report by former deputy education minister Charles Pascal, who was commissioned by McGuinty in 2007 to advise on how best to offer school-centred childcare for four and five-year-olds. McGuinty first promised the program in the 2003 provincial election.
The report is being hailed in some sectors as a long overdue upgrade in Ontario's day care system, citing criticism by international organizations of Canada's lack of spending and coordination in early childhood care as an area that government must improve upon.
John Campbell, chairman of the Toronto District School Board, approved of the proposal, saying many parents will welcome the possibility of leaving their children in care facilities for a longer period of time.
"With so many households where you have two working parents or if you have a single-parent family where the sole parent is working, they're already looking for these kinds of solutions," he said in a Canadian Press report.
However, critics of the plan, which include members of the Opposition in Queen's Park, educators and parents' groups, have pointed out the many problems inherent in the program.
Progressive Conservative education critic Joyce Savoline said the report will obviously be popular with parents, but its cost has not been calculated in this year's budget.
"I don't know where they're going to find the money," Ms. Savoline told the Globe & Mail.
Pascal's report estimates that additional operational and staffing costs would be in the range of $790-million to $990-million a year, while another $1.7 billion would be needed to renovate and expand schools to accommodate the approximately 250,000 additional children that would be injected into the school system.
Some critics see the program as simply a way to bolster the declining enrollment in Ontario schools with very young children. Plummeting birth rates have resulted in the closure of over 300 schools in Ontario in the last six years. The Ontario Ministry of Education has predicted that by 2010, total elementary and secondary school enrolment will drop by nearly 100,000 students from 2002 numbers.
Chair of the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board, Lynn Scott, said the implications of the program are not yet known, but said she is pleased the report has finally been released.
“I think some parents will certainly welcome it. I’m not sure that’s true of all parents,” she told the Ottawa Citizen, and added that acceptance of the program "will depend on how much importance people place on parents interacting with their young children."
Many parents' and pro-family groups, as well as UNICEF, in a surprising recent document, have spotlighted the decreasing role of the family in raising young children and the negative consequences of daycare and preschool environments.
A UNICEF report last year called daycare "a high-stakes gamble with today's children and tomorrow's world."
The report observed that "most children in the developed world are spending their earliest years in some form of care outside the home.”
Martha Friendly, director of the Toronto-based Childcare Resource and Research Unit, commented on the UNICEF study: "The child-care transition," that is, the transition from children being raised by their parents to being raised by state-run institutions, “is being facilitated by public policies in most countries."
A comprehensive study done in the US found that the more time children spent in center-based care before kindergarten, the more likely their teachers were to report such problem behaviors as "gets in many fights," "disobedient at school," and "argues a lot." (see coverage here).
Research from the University of California, Berkeley, and Stanford University, found that the social skills of white, middle-class children suffer – in terms of cooperation, sharing and engagement in classroom tasks – after attending preschool centers for more than six hours a day, compared to similar children who remain at home with a parent prior to starting school.
“The biggest eye-opener is that the suppression of social and emotional development, stemming from long hours in preschool, is felt most strongly by children from better-off families,” said UC Berkeley sociologist and co-author Bruce Fuller.
Denise Kanter, a research advisor with Morningstar Educational Network, which encourages parents to care for and preschool their young children at home, said, “These negative social behaviors children are displaying are getting worse. Time Magazine reported on the consequences of negative emotional and social problems among young children. In Time’s report, the child-advocacy group Partnership for Children survey showed that 93 percent of 39 schools responding said kindergartners today “have more emotional and behavioral problems than were seen just five years ago."
Time Magazine further quotes the survey leader as explaining, “We’re talking about children – a 3-year-old in one instance – who will take a fork and stab another child in the forehead. We’re talking about a wide range of explosive behaviors, and it’s a growing problem.”
Read related LSN reports: