In the first year of the ECEI 2011, only three jurisdictions received a passing grade. Yet there are reasons for optimism. Three years ago, Prince Edward Island would not have been among the top scorers. Only three provinces offered full-day kindergarten; today it’s six. Province-wide curriculum anchored in learning through play was the exception instead of the norm. No province had merged oversight for kindergarten and child care.
In contrast, today four provinces have combined their departments, and the monitoring and reporting of vulnerability in preschool-aged children is no longer a rarity. Despite the cancellation of the federal/provincial/territorial child care agreements, the number of child care spaces across Canada has grown by over 20 percent. Half of all children regularly attend preschool, and most provinces could provide universal access with staged prudent investments. You could say, we are already halfway there!
We now have many made-in-Canada examples of good practice and the steps jurisdictions took to achieve their results. Their experiences can serve as a guide to others. The index does not suggest that there is only one route to success. Indeed, the two leading jurisdictions reached their destinations using very different methods.
Obviously there is much room for improvement. More children are involved in early education than ever before. However, the split between oversight and delivery still requires too many parents to piece together arrangements to cover their work schedules. The results are stressful for children and parents alike, but also negate the wonderful payback that comes from delivering early education in a way that simultaneously supports children’s learning and their parents’ work. These findings are well documented in chapter 4. Early childhood educators now receive more professional recognition and have seen modest salary improvements, but training requirements have not kept pace with the growing demands on the profession.
The big story behind the index is that high-quality, publicly funded preschool education for all 2- to 5-year-olds isn’t a utopian fantasy, particularly if it is built on the asset we already have in public education. Much of the groundwork has been laid, many of the tools have been developed and most importantly, universal early childhood education has many, many advocates. They can be found in boardrooms, schoolrooms, science laboratories, health clinics, courtrooms, university classrooms, government offices and home kitchens. Early childhood education leverages the best from other family policies and allows every child to reach her fullest potential.
Next: Chapter 6: Figures
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