Why is it worth investing in kindergarten?
The jury has been in on this for a long time. We have long understood that when you properly prepare children for Grade 1 you give them a much better chance of succeeding in school, graduating from high school, going on to postsecondary education and getting a good job. It's the foundation for richer quality of life for the child and a stronger economy that benefits all of us.
Ontario's model emphasizes before- and after-school care, but only 40 per cent of schools across the province had enough interest from parents to offer it. Do you have concerns about this component of the program?
The reason that boards aren't offering it is because in the overwhelming majority of cases, there hasn't been the demand, and the reason the demand is not there is because parents weren't aware of it. And I'm convinced that it's going to be very attractive. The biggest single complaint we get today with respect to full-day kindergarten is, 'When is it coming to my child's school?' But I'm convinced that as we roll this out, more and more parents are going to say, 'This is a wonderful new option for us.'
What is play-based learning and why it was made central to the full-day kindergarten curriculum?
People with real expertise in this area tell me that the play-based learning experience maximizes the child's learning opportunities. … Terri [my wife]does this in her own classroom. You can't take little four and five-year-olds and put them at a desk all day, that's not how children should be leading their educational lives. They need an opportunity to get up and move around and to learn simply through experimentation.
The suggestion remains that kids are better off in school than they are at home. Critics have said you're showing a lack of faith in parents.
I have tremendous faith in parents. They are the single most important influence in a child's life. They are single most important educator for their child, and all that we are doing is creating an option.
Another criticism is that the research behind the program is based on underprivileged, high-needs kids, and may overstate the benefits to middle-income and affluent families.
We have measured here in Ontario that 27 per cent of the children entering Grade 1 are affected by a vulnerability. And vulnerability includes everything from academic challenges and learning difficulties to behavioural issues, to health issues. So that's one-quarter of our student population that are going into Grade 1 behind the others. Something else that we've known for a long time now is the sooner that you locate that there's a challenge associated with a child, the sooner you can begin to address it and the sooner that you can turn them around. … Sixty per cent of kids with vulnerabilities come from upper income, middle income and moderate income: 60 per cent are coming from "non-poor" families. So full-day kindergarten isn't just going to benefit children from poor families.
When will we Ontarians learn which schools get the full-day program next?
We've started with the low-hanging fruit in terms of which schools are most easily converted or adapted to take on full-day kindergarten right away. But as we push out further, there will be necessarily more capital-intensive efforts required. So we will have the necessary budget for that, and we haven't decided yet when we're going to roll out announcements for years 3, 4 and 5. I think as well as more and more young parents become aware of full-day kindergarten they're going to want to know when it's coming to their own school.