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Lethbridge: Pre-primary a good idea that needs work

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Lethbridge, Gail
Publication Date: 
21 Jul 2017



As well-meaning as the universal pre-primary program is, it is flawed.

This week the government announced another 25 locations for the pre-primary program for four-year-olds. This is in addition to the eight sites that already exist.

In September there will be 43 locations and 50 pre-primary classrooms across the province.

The idea of pre-primary school is not a bad one. The government wants to create a program that will ease children into learning and the school environment.

It will also give parents access to free daycare.

As noble as that objective is, this program does not meet the goal or the need.

First of all, school is not daycare. True, it has evolved in that direction with changes in the workforce over the past four decades.

But let’s not confuse the two: school is school and daycare is daycare.

And if you need proof of this, look at school hours. Generally, they are 9-3. Monday to Friday. They are closed for Christmas vacations, March break and for two months during the summer. They are also closed weekends and holidays.

Nice hours if you can get them but unless the parents of these children are working in the school system, these hours are unrealistic for parents who need day care.

With this program, working parents will have to organize daycare before and after school. And what about summer holidays? And snow days? At present, day cares do not tend to close for snow, but schools do.

The other problem with this program is the wrench it will throw into the private and non-profit daycare sector.

They will now be competing with a government-funded service for children. And they are at risk of losing childcare workers to the state-funded system.

Daycares are required to provide a ratio of eight children to one worker.

The government system will be 10:1. This is an uneven playing field.

This will have serious consequences for daycare operations which are already operating on shoestring budgets. It could mean closures which will leave parents and children without day care services after school or during holidays.

This plan was not well thought out.

Daycare operations were not properly consulted and now the government is answering their questions by saying they will “partner” with day cares.

The real disappointment here is that the government missed a golden opportunity to truly partner with the daycare sector and improve services for parents and children who are in need.

When the program is completely rolled out, it will cost government $49.4 million.

Imagine what that kind of money could do for the daycare sector, which is already operating with workers, regulations and an infrastructure in place.

That money could be used to provide free day care to parents who need the service. It could be used to expand childcare centres to locations that are under-serviced.

As it stands right now, the universal system will provide free daycare to all parents, including those who are not economically in need. And that free day care would be designed to fit the work schedules of parents.

That money could also be used to provide a pre-primary schooling program within the day care system.

The money is a good investment in Nova Scotia families. It is also a good investment in the economy, bringing better education to children and enabling more parents to join the workforce.

But it is being deployed in the wrong way.

If daycares cannot compete with state-run universal pre-primary programs and have to close, there will be no after-school or summer options for parents and children.

It has the look of a campaign promise: votes for free day care.

Let’s hope that by “partnering” with the daycare sector, the government will make sure that the sector will survive and daycare services will be tailored to the needs of parents and children of Nova Scotia.

-reprinted from The Chronicle Herald

Entered Date: 
26 Jul 2017
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