Questions & Answers

The Early Childhood Education Report 2014 Questions & Answers

Q. What does the Early Childhood Education Report 2014 tell us about preschool education in Canada?

A. First released in 2011, the Early Childhood Education Report (ECER) is grounded in international evidence 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. The ECER provides a snapshot of provincial/territorial preschool services through 19 benchmarks, reflecting 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 an indication of the attention jurisdictions are paying to good governance, adequate investment and quality supports.

Q. No jurisdiction, even Quebec and PEI, gets more than 10 out of 15 points. Isn’t that a problem?

A. The results reflect the underdevelopment of Canada’s early years services. Worth noting however are the trends. Results for each province have steadily improved, with some provinces leaping forward. This indicates a more mature understanding of the value of early education to society.

Q. Early Childhood Education Report 2014 shows Canada lags many developed countries when it comes to investing in early childhood education. Why is this?

A. Countries with strong and comprehensive early childhood services have a history of national governments investing to ensure that children get the best learning benefits, that mothers are able to participate in the workforce, and that the future of their society and economy is optimized. Canada has not had a Federal government making the required investments contributing to inequities across the country.

Q. How much is Canada currently spending on early childhood education and how much more do we need to invest?

A. Canada currently invests 0.6 percent of GDP in preschool education while the top third of countries in the OECD are spending almost 2 percent. The OECD average is a 1.1 percent.

Q. The report says that for every $1 invested in early learning and child care creates $1.75 in new tax revenues and reduced social costs. How long does it take to recoup the costs of preschool? Is it over the lifetime of a child’s life?

A. Studies in Québec show that increases in maternal labour force participation attributed to low cost child care generate $1.20 in new taxes for every public dollar spent. Meanwhile the federal government gets 55 cents in tax gains and saves on its social transfers to Québec families. The investments from parents labour force participation is recouped immediately. There are also medium and longer-term benefits, resulting from reduced family poverty, less need for special education in schools and reduced health and social costs.  In the longer term Canada benefits from better-resourced citizens in the workforce and in society.

Q. What accounts for the substantial differences in the availability and quality of preschool across the country?

A. The per child gap in preschool investment and access is considerable. This points to unevenness in political will and provincial capacity. This in turn points to the need for federal investment so all Canada’s children have equal access to quality preschool.

Q. Many provinces are struggling with a deficit. Is it realistic to expect them to find funds for preschool?

A. Political will, more than deficits, seem to influence investment in this area. Provinces such as Ontario and Quebec with the largest deficits are making the biggest investments because they recognize the benefits.

Q. Are you supporting the NDP’s idea of a national child care program?

A. We are encouraged by the opposition parties’ commitments to early childhood education. Our report is not about endorsing a particular position. It is about providing the data and information needed so wise decisions can be made.

Q. There will be a federal election in the coming months, what would you like to hear from the Conservatives and Liberals on this issue?

A. Canada needs to hear a commitment to early education and care from all the parties.

Q.  What about the Conservative government’s plan to expand the Universal Child Care Benefit and income splitting?

A. The UCCB is a family allowance, not an investment in early education and care.   Income splitting will not offer families the preschool options they want.

Q. In 2005, then Prime Minister Martin tried to establish the foundations of a national childcare program. Would you like to see a future Liberal Government resurrect this plan?

A. Times have changed since 2005, any federal government would need to respect the directions taken by the provinces and territories and decide jointly on the most effective way to move forward.

Q. What if provinces aren’t interested? Won’t this perpetuate an uneven system? What would stop the provinces from spending the money on other priorities such as health care?

A. There are many examples of federal funding targeted to a particular program where the provinces have respected the goals of the program.

Q. How many new preschool spots are needed to meet the need? How much would it cost to create enough preschool spots for every child/family who wants one?

A. About 58 percent of children aged 2-4 years regularly attended preschool in 2014. To provide this opportunity for every child access would need to double. This would also require doubling current investments.

Q. How long would it take to create enough spots for every child/family who needs one?

A. Any growth in access must be accompanied by sufficient highly trained and well paid educators and 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. There is no overnight fix but we can see the progress made in just a few short years between ECE Report 2011 and 2014.

Q. How many preschool teachers would need to be trained? And how long would this take?

A. Workforce surveys indicate there is not a 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.  Many provinces provide models of how to upgrade the qualifications of their existing workforce.   Where early education provides a meaningful career there is no shortage of interested applicants.

Q. Should private childcare centres operate along side non-profit and public programs? Or are you seeking a universal public system?

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.

Q. How much does the average family now spend on preschool?

A. This varies by jurisdiction. Quebec, Manitoba and PEI regulate child care costs. Outside of these provinces, costs can exceed $90/day in major urban areas.  Cost is a major barrier to children attending quality early education programs.

Q. What would be a reasonable price to charge parents for preschool?

A. There has been little research in what constitutes an affordable fee and affordability obviously varies by family. Quebec’s low cost child care is the envy of families everywhere.  This represents one option.  Another proposal is that parents pay 20 percent of the overall costs with individual families paying on a sliding scale according to income. Another is that all children be entitled to a core day of preschool, and parents pay for any additional hours they may require. The principle is that costs should not be a barrier to participation.

Q. Quebec is considering raising its childcare fees or basing the cost on a family’s income. What is your view on this?

A. Quebec’s low cost child care is the envy of families across the country. Undermining the structure on which it is built is disappointing.

Q. What about parents who decide to stay at home with their children. Why should they subsidize through their taxes parents who choose to return to work?

A. Investing in children during their foundational years stimulates economic and social productivity and avoids costly education, health and social costs down the road. Everyone benefits, so everyone should pay. This is a basic principle of democratic societies.

Q. Why not simply increase the Universal Child Care Benefit and let parents choose the type of care that is best for them and best for their child?

A. The UCCB has been well exposed as a failure in terms of childcare relief. Even if the UCCB were quadrupled, it would not create an early years system, any more than money to parents would create and sustain public education. No country, which provides preschool to the majority of its children, accomplishes this by giving money to parents – they fund and support an early education system

Q. Research shows the affluent families disproportionally take advantage of preschool over those with lower incomes. Shouldn’t we focus our scarce resources helping the most disadvantaged children rather than trying to create one system for all?

A. Much public funding for early childhood funding is now targeted to subsidizing 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 quit thinking of early education and care as an option for working parents or children from low income families. It is a program that benefits all children.

Q. If preschool is a natural extension of elementary schools? Should departments of education be responsible for establishing and managing the system?

A. Integrating early childhood education into education’s infrastructure has positive outcomes. Eight provinces and territories have now merged their early years programs into their education departments allowing them to make better use of the existing infrastructure in public education to expand access for young children either through the direct delivery of programming or by partnering with community agencies

Q. What do children do all day in preschool?

A. Every jurisdiction now has an early learning curriculum in place or development. These are living documents are reflective of young children, their families and their communities. All are anchored in the knowledge that young children in particular, learn best in joyful, playful, nurturing environments.

Q. How do kids who attend preschool benefit?

A. Preschool develops children’s love of learning, their social skills, and respect for diversity.
Research indicates that preschool helps all children, but particularly those from disadvantage circumstances, with:

  • Cognition and language development
  • Emotional development and improved impulse control
  • Being prepared for and better transitions into school
  • And by identifying problems and intervening early, preschool avoids the pain and costs of special education.

Q. Data shows Ontario children are not substantially benefiting from full day kindergarten. Why should we invest in something that doesn’t seem to work?

A. It is too early to condemn such a big and new program.  The promising news is decision makers are learning from evaluations and every year problems are identified and addressed. It is also useful to look at French language school boards in Ontario, which have had full day kindergarten for 4 and 5 year olds for more than 15 years. Francophone students are top performers on standardized tests.

Q. Some studies show preschool is good for kids while others show no substantial benefit. What accounts for the conflicting data?

A. Creating more preschool places is not enough. Programs need to be high quality to produce promising results. When studies factor in program quality, advantages for children are consistently demonstrated.

Q. What about parents who choose to work part-time or are on shift work, would they have access to preschool spots that fit their working life?

A. All children benefit from preschool 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 the non-traditional working hours, this is where business should play a role – either through more family friendly policies or by providing emergency care or care during non-traditional hours.

Q. At what age should kids start preschool?

A. Research shows that children are ready for preschool around age two. 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 babies.

Q. Toddlers in preschool all day -- aren’t we robbing them of their childhood?

A. Most toddlers are not with their parents all day. We propose all children enjoy safe, healthy environments surrounded by their friends and playmates, nutritious meals, and loving and trained educators ensuring that their childhood is joyful and playful.

Q. Education is a provincial jurisdiction, how could the federal government support preschool?

A. Regional funding, access and workforce variations suggest there is a role for the federal government in supporting equity for children and families. Preschool also delivers economic benefits to the federal government; benefits they should share with the provinces and territories. It is possible for F/P/T agreements to facilitate federal support for preschool programs; similar to the way federal funding supports post secondary education.

Q. What about all the parents and grandparents who managed to raise their kids without the help of public preschool? If they could do it, why can’t today’s parents?

A. Today’s parents are raising their children in a different world from the one in which we were raised. What parent or grandparent wouldn’t want the best possible options for their children and grandchildren?