A: The Early Childhood Education Report (ECER) provides a snapshot of provincial/territorial early childhood education services. It uses 19 benchmarks across 5 equally weighted categories, which reflect a common set of core standards essential for the delivery of quality programming. Thresholds for each benchmark were established to reflect Canadian reality. Results are determined on a scale of 1 to 15, with the final tally indicating the attention jurisdictions are paying to good governance, adequate investment and quality supports. First released in 2011 and again in 2014 and 2017, the ECER is grounded in international scientific evidence that a strong and coherent early childhood education public policy framework produces the best results for children and their families, uses public investments effectively and is accountable to Canadians.
A. The report allows stakeholders to identify best practices across the country. It is less of a comparative document and more of a tool to identify gaps and develop prescriptions for success. It also opens a dialogue across jurisdictions about the challenges faced and how challenges are being addressed. The third edition of the ECER shows that jurisdictions across the country have made both significant and measureable gains.
A. The results reflect the underdevelopment of Canada’s early years’ services. Worth noting, however, are the trends. Results for each province and territory have steadily improved since 2011, with some jurisdiction leaping forward. This indicates a more mature understanding of the value of early education to society and the policy levers that can be used to support more quality programs.
A. There has been a modest increase in funding; just under $1 billion has been added to provincial and territorial ECE budgets since 2014. More attention is being paid to the workforce, and more schools are being used to expand early learning opportunities for children. Over 95 percent of 5-year-olds now attend full-day kindergarten, and 40 percent of 3- and 4-year-olds participate in ECE programs operated by schools. While not a replacement for child care, full-day school programs seem to provide enough care to enable more mothers to enter the labour force.
A. Countries with mature early childhood systems enjoy active federal leadership. For the first time in 10 years, early childhood education is back on the federal table. In January 2018, 6 out of 13 jurisdictions had signed on to a Multilateral Framework allowing them to access federal funds to improve access to early learning and child care programs for children in vulnerable communities. It will be interesting to assess the impact of the new funding in ECER 2020.
A. Québec studies show that increased maternal labour force participation attributed to low-cost child care generates more taxes and lowers income-tested payments, allowing government to recoup the cost of the program almost immediately. Short-term cost recovery is generated through a reduced draw on child welfare and need for special education due to earlier detection. Longer-term benefits result from reduced family poverty and health and social savings. Ultimately, Canada profits from better-resourced citizens in the workforce and in society.
A. About 54 percent of children aged 2–4 years regularly attended an early education program in 2017, a small drop from the findings reported in ECER 2014. Schools are providing more opportunities, and while there has been an increase in child care spaces, affordability remains a barrier to access. For quality early education to be available to every child, access would need to double and affordability would need to be addressed. This would require doubling current investment
A. Any growth in access must be accompanied by sufficiently trained and compensated educators, along with adequate facilities and infrastructure. More bad-quality programs benefit no one. Many jurisdictions have the frameworks in place to support expansion now; others will need to invest in start up. Lessons from Québec have demonstrated that expansion without equal investment in quality creates low-quality programs that are difficult to correct. There is no overnight fix, but there is evidence of progress made between ECER 2011 and 2017.
A. Workforce surveys indicate there is no shortage of qualified early childhood educators in most regions. There is, however, a shortage of good jobs—the result of insufficient investment and infrastructure supports. With an undercompensated workforce, turnover rates are high and many ECEs leave the sector. Many provinces provide models for how to upgrade the qualifications of their existing workforce. Where early education provides a meaningful career, there is no shortage of interested applican
A. An overreliance on the private sector creates market competition along with service overlaps, gaps and failures. Research also indicates problems with quality in commercial programs. Provinces such as Prince Edward Island have shown how early childhood services can be reformed while still respecting the contribution of private operators.
A. Little research has been done to determine what constitutes an affordable fee, and affordability obviously varies by family. One option is Québec’s low-cost child care. Another proposal is that parents pay no more than 20 percent of the overall costs, with individual families paying on a sliding scale according to their income. Still another option is that all children be entitled to a core day of programming at no cost with parents paying for any additional hours they may require. The principle is that costs should not be a barrier to participation
A. Québec has historically been a standard for many of the benchmarks in the report, but that is no longer the case. Québec’s family policy is now 20 years old. A commission examining its status provides a portrait of a service that helped to transform and modernize Québec society, but that is now tired. Both its facilities and its workforce need attention.
A. Much public funding for early childhood programs now subsidizes the fees of low-income families. It doesn’t work. Low-income families still have great difficulty finding and paying for quality care. For political, social and financial reasons we need to stop thinking of early education as a program for working parents; it is a program that benefits all children, regardless of their family income.
A. Early childhood governance models that are split in terms of curriculum approaches, oversight, auspice and ages of the children served are associated with quality and access challenges. The Integration and consolidation of oversight and delivery contributes to consistency of quality and more equitable access, and reduce variability in funding and staff qualifications.
A. Quality early education develops children’s love of learning, their social skills and their respect for diversity. Research indicates that early education helps all children, but particularly those from disadvantage circumstances, in the following ways:
A. Programs need to be high quality to produce promising results. When studies factor in program quality, advantages for children are consistently demonstrated.
A. All children benefit from early education, whether or not their parents work. This is why we propose a core program for all children, with the option for parents to pay for extended hours if and when required. In terms of non-traditional working hours, this is where business should play a role, either through family-friendly policies or by providing emergency care or care during non-traditional hours.
A. Research shows that children are ready for a group early learning experience around the age of 2 years. This does not negate the need for child care for younger children and for expanded parental leave to allow more parents to spend more time with their infants.
A. Most toddlers are not with their parents all day. We propose that all children be given the opportunity to enjoy safe, healthy environments surrounded by their friends and playmates, nutritious meals, and loving and trained educators to ensure their childhood is joyful and playful.
A. Today’s parents are raising their children in a different world from the one in which we were raised. Given the documented benefits of early education, what parent or grandparent wouldn’t want the best possible options for the children they love?
© 2019 Atkinson Centre, All rights reserved