By Teghan Beaudette
Plans to implement full-day learning programs for four and five year-olds in Ontario are moving ahead despite a heated debate between early childhood researchers and the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada about who should be caring for Canada’s children.
Ottawa school boards released a preliminary report with a list of schools to be considered for full-day kindergarten programs Tuesday—the first step towards realizing the McGuinty government’s long promised full-day learning plan.
The plan – which would see kindergarten programs extended from the current half-day – aims to improve reading, writing and math skills for four and five year olds and smooth the transition to Grade 1.
The full day learning program was harshly criticized this week by the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada (IMFC), who released a report advising that the program would cost taxpayers billions at a time when the province is running a record deficit.
“The question for parents and taxpayers is, how much are you willing to put into family policy and would you rather have that money in your pocket?” said Andrea Mrozek, manager of research and communications for IMFC and author of the report.
The IMFC estimates the cost of full-day kindergarten in Ontario at $1.6 billion annually. Mrozek said the IMFC is not against child care spending, but they believe the money would be better spent in direct payments to parents. She believes they are in a better position to educate their children for the second half of the kindergarten day.
“The IMFC is in favor of choice in child care. A huge, massive institution doesn’t offer parents, really, choices. Money in their pockets would,” Mrozek said.
On the other side of the debate, early childhood researchers argue that research indicates that the extension of regulated early childhood programs benefits children, and the full-day learning plan is a step in the right direction.
Martha Friendly, coordinator of the Childcare Resource and Research Unit, said there isn’t much choice involved for parents who want to work, with long wait lists for regulated child care spaces and prohibitive costs. The full-day learning program could alleviate some of that need and expense.
But Mrozek argued the program will raise taxes and could put pressure on two-parent families to work. “If you have those high taxes you need both parents to work in order to make ends meet.”
Friendly says the IMFC is affiliated with conservative Christian organizations, and their arguments are based on the belief that mothers should stay at home with their children and out of the workforce—which simply isn’t realistic, she said. “Mothers are working anyway, and the children better be someplace good.”
Friendly said critics of the program aren’t taking into account who will benefit from these programs. “These people—they got a university education at times when tuition was lower, they had the benefit of health care, most of these people have decent pensions, and they’re just railing about young families and little children having a share of the wealth.”
Regardless of the controversy, the full-day learning program is set to begin in September 2010 and is expected to be fully implemented by 2015.