Executive Summary

It's Time for Preschool

The immediate and long-term benefits of quality early childhood education (ECE) for children and society are well documented. Early childhood education is a job creator in its own right, while supporting parents as they work or upgrade their skills. In addition to the welcome it provides for new Canadians, it also offers opportunities for community integration, and reduces inequalities that result from poverty.

Early childhood education refers to programs for young children based on an explicit curriculum delivered by qualified staff and designed to support children’s development and learning. Attendance is regular and children may participate with their parents/caregivers. ECE may be organized to support parents’ labour force participation or to provide respite. ECE can be organized as a platform to effectively target early intervention and parenting resources.

BoyBy identifying problems and intervening early, ECE decreases the number of children in special education classes. It gives all children a strong start for school and for life. Better education helps to reduce skills shortages, expenditures in health and social service costs. These, in turn, help to reduce income inequality and lead to a stronger society and economy. Importantly, ECE also offers preschool children a space and place to be and play with other children.

In 2006, as part of its 20-country review of early education and care systems, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) exposed Canada as a policy laggard. Last in public spending on ECE, our children were least likely to attend an ECE program, program quality was poor and the ECE workforce was undertrained and under-resourced.

The OECD team left a prescription for Canada to improve its performance:

  • Take a look at governance. Programs for young children are scattered—give one ministry the lead and hold it accountable.
  • Invest more, but spend smart. Children need good early education, while the economy needs working parents. Put education and care together and watch the payoffs.
  • Expand access, but do not take short cuts with quality. More poor quality child care benefits no one.
  • Pay attention to the workforce. It needs better training and support. Give it the same level of leadership, career opportunities and curriculum supports that are provided for public school teachers.
  • Invest in research to keep abreast with the burgeoning science and to create a quality improvement loop.

Finally, the OECD noted there was no appropriate monitoring measure across jurisdictions to assure Canadians of the value of their investments. The Early Childhood Education Report (ECER) was developed to fill this void. First released in 2011, the ECER is grounded in the OECD’s recommendations and the knowledge that a strong and coherent public policy framework produces the best results for children and their families, uses public investments effectively and is accountable to Canadians for the well-being of children.

Next: The Policy Gap >