Junior and Full-Day Kindergarten

The Issue

The Alberta government seems to be unsure about the value of junior and full-day kindergarten. In October 2003, Alberta’s Commission on Learning called upon the provincial government to “establish new junior kindergarten programs on a phased-in basis” and to “establish full-day kindergarten.” Alberta Learning has declined to accept these recommendations, saying that further study is necessary.

The Reality

  • The government’s own learning commission reviewed the research and concluded that these programs would help children to get off to a good start in life and learning.
  • The trend in all leading industrialized countries is to provide at least two years of early childhood education before children begin school. A study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) concludes that all children should have access to high quality programs and that particular attention should be paid to children in need of special support.
  • A separate OECD review of practices in 20 countries released October 25, 2004, describes Canada's child-care system as a patchwork of dismal programs that offers basic babysitting but not much more. The report emphasized the need to focus on delivering early childhood education rather than on warehousing children. As part of the report, four European investigators toured dozens of programs in Prince Edward Island, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and British Columbia, the only four provinces that agreed to be in the review. Alberta declined to participate.
  • Investments in providing high quality early childhood development programs create long term benefits for children and for society. Three separate long-term studies in the United States have demonstrated that the benefit to society of one dollar invested in early childhood education is between four and nine dollars. These benefits include reduced use of social welfare, justice and health services, increased earnings and increased tax revenue for government.
  • Where full-day kindergarten programs were introduced on a trial basis by the Edmonton Public and Northern Lights school boards, children at-risk were able to make substantial progress and, in a significant majority of cases, achieve the same level of skill as other children.
  • In their landmark report The Early Years Study: Reversing the Real Brain Drain, respected Canadian researchers Dr Fraser Mustard and Dr Margaret McCain stress that the early child development and parenting centres must be available to all families in the community. "There is no economic cut-off point above which all children do well. Because of the size of the middle class, the number of children not doing as well as they might is greater in the middle socioeconomic group than in the bottom 20 percent of the scale," they write. "Targeted programs that reach only children at risk in the lower socioeconomic group will miss a very large number of children and families in need of support in the middle and upper socioeconomic sectors of society."