Full-day kindergarten: costly and unnecessary
Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty is overselling the benefits and underscoring the costs of universal full-day kindergarten, says the program’s critics.
Full-day kindergarten has already been implemented in 600 sites across Ontario. It will replace the previous half day of supervision and lessons with a full day in school for 4 and 5 year olds under the care of a teacher and an early childhood educator. Some schools will also provide before and after-school daycare for an additional fee.
Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty hopes that the program will be available in all schools by 2015. The government, already suffering from a $20 billion deficit, predicts the new program will cost $1.5 billion once fully implemented. The original report put forward by education adviser Charles Pascal for full-day learning in June 2009, which was not fully implemented by the McGuinty administration, suggested the budget impact if fully enacted would be $6.1 million per year.
A parents’ group established in April is battling the Ontario government’s full-day kindergarten program.
“ParentalChoice is a grassroots movement of parents who are concerned about choice in education. We came into existence because most parents want to be the ones making the decisions for their children’s education, not the government,” said Tanya Allen, head of ParentalChoice, and mother of two young children, in an e-mail interview with The Interim.
“For many parents,” Allen explained, “the traditional half-day program represented a welcome but gradual adjustment for their child from full-time home care to full-time schooling.” But, she added, “this expensive new full-day program is being forced on Ontario’s school boards and families whether they like it or not.”
Allen warned, “With the advent of full-day kindergarten, it is not unreasonable to think that this new government program could become mandatory for all 5 year olds in the province, or younger. Even homeschoolers in Ontario should be concerned about the high-handed tactics of the McGuinty government.”
Proponents of the new program are not holding back their praises. Full-day kindergarten will reportedly prepare children for Grade 1, provide opportunity for social interaction, give children a better head start in the world, let parents work, and eventually benefit the Canadian economy.
Allen says, “The alleged economical benefits to full-day kindergarten are also grossly exaggerated. When you factor in the $1.5 billion price tag, plus all the unemployed daycare workers, the numbers just don’t add up.”
Andrea Mrozek, the manager of research at the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada, wrote in the Ottawa Citizen that full-day kindergarten will spell trouble for child-care providers, considering that the four- and five-year-olds, which are cheaper for day care centres to care for than infants, will be relegated to kindergarten. Full-day kindergarten, according to Mrozek, would likely correspond with a rise in taxes that parents would have to pay, even if they choose to enrol their children in a private system.
According to Allen, there are better ways to use the money meant for full-day kindergarten, such as providing families with tax credits and funding child-care providers and home care. “If the motivation of the government is assist parents with an additional half-day of care, there are less expensive ways to do this, and without eliminating parental choice.”
Furthermore, not everyone agrees that a full day in school would benefit the children. Writing in The Vancouver Observer, responding to the introduction of full day kindergarten in BC this year, David Buckna, a retired British Columbia school teacher, said: “News articles touting full day kindergarten say it won’t look much different from half day kindergarten, except teachers will have more opportunity to extend the ‘play-based learning.’ But ‘play-based learning’ is not the same as free play. Nor does being part of a social group for six consecutive hours address the psychological need a child of this age has for some ‘down time’ away from the group.”
Adds Allen, “The developmental benefits are overrated. In fact, there is research that claims that children in full-day kindergarten experience no benefit at all.”