I’d like to begin the last column of this school year by saying a big thank you to our members.
Ontario's Courageous Step Forward (From the President)
The Ontario government took a courageous step in October when it announced that it would go ahead with full-day kindergarten. It’s great news for children, parents, and for Ontario. And it is also great news for ETFO and for our members who teach kindergarten.
Ever since Premier Dalton McGuinty first promised full-day kindergarten during the 2007 election campaign, the federation has worked hard to ensure that kindergarten programs would be staffed by fully-certified teachers. The report of the Premier’s early learning advisor was released in June; it proposed a staffing model that would have teachers in the classroom for only half a day.
ETFO’s work since that report was released stressed the need for full-day kindergarten teachers. At the annual meeting ETFO released the results of a public opinion survey which showed that a qualified teacher in the class- room for the full day is what parents expect. Our editorial columns and letters to the editor were published in a number of newspapers across the province. We published advertisements and met with elected politicians and government officials at all levels to make sure they understood our position. We emphasized over and over again that from a pedagogical perspective full time teachers were the best option. Research and public opinion supported our position.
In the end the government agreed with us. The new programs will be staffed by a full- time teacher working with a full-time early childhood educator. The programs will be augmented by before- and after-school childcare that parents will pay for. The full program will roll out over five years, starting in 2010. It is expected that next year some 35,000 new kindergarten spaces will be created.
We commend the government for taking action on a new program and expanding the school system in challenging economic times.
Since the collapse of stock markets last year, governments around the world have focused on stimulus spending to kick start a recovery. There’s no doubt that expanding early learning programs will have a positive stimulus effect. There will be additional teaching positions, expanded child care programs in schools, and renovation of classrooms to accommodate the new programs.
More importantly by enhancing the educational opportunity and outcomes for our children the new programs will enhance Ontario’s competitive position in the years to come.
For our members who teach kindergarten this is an opportunity to give their students the full benefit of their knowledge and skills. They know that young students are ready to learn and will learn so much more when they have a full day at school. Many are looking forward to working with ECE-trained staff. I know that our members will approach that opportunity with creativity and professionalism.
We will all need to work creatively and professionally to address the practical issues that accompany the launch of a new program, especially given the tight timelines. District school boards had until the end of November to recommend to the ministry which schools should get the full day programs next year. There will be many other issues to resolve at the local level. ETFO research and collective bargaining staff are working hard with local leaders to ensure that collective agreement provisions are respected.
I am confident that by working together with ECE staff, school boards, and the ministry we can ensure that full-day early learning programs become a success story of which we can all be proud.
The past year of negotiations has been difficult for ETFO and other public sector unions.