Article

Ontario's Courageous Step Forward (From the President)

Sam Hammond

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.

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