Ontario’s Education Minister said on Friday that a full-day learning program will stay in place for four- and five-year-olds in the province, a commitment made after the government faced backlash for comments that put the future of all-day kindergarten in doubt.
Lisa Thompson did not specify, however, that the current kindergarten model would remain unchanged.
Her late-afternoon statement came after both she and the Premier would only guarantee the future of full-day kindergarten for another year when repeatedly asked this week. There was swift criticism from educators, experts and parents, who said full-day kindergarten provides many advantages for children.
“Let me be clear, we are absolutely committed to full-day learning for four- and five-year-olds across the province,” Thompson said Friday.
Premier Doug Ford’s government is conducting education consultations, including the possibility of removing class-size caps for kindergarten and primary grades.
When asked Wednesday about the future of full-day kindergarten, the Premier said, “I can tell you that there’s going to be all-day kindergarten next year and we’ll sit down and you’ll hear from us in the future.”
His comments echoed ones Ms. Thompson made earlier in the week.
Full-day kindergarten was introduced by former Liberal premier Dalton McGuinty and was fully rolled out in 2014. It saves families thousands of dollars a year in child-care costs, but it costs the government $1.5 billion a year.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau weighed in on the issue Thursday night, saying at a town hall meeting in Milton, Ont., that he was “deeply concerned” that Mr. Ford was refusing to rule out cuts to full-day kindergarten and potentially raising class sizes.
Mr. Trudeau told the crowd that cuts to education won’t help the economy grow or provide opportunity for Canadians. The cuts would also hit home on a personal level, he added.
“I’m also a parent who has three kids in the Ontario public-school system, he said, adding the potential cuts “worry me as a parent who’s got his youngest kid in all-day kindergarten right now.”
The Ministry of Education’s own research shows that full-day kindergarten reduces risks in language and cognitive development, and means children are more likely to achieve academic success in Grade 1.
Research from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education also showed that kids who had been in full-day kindergarten scored higher on reading, writing and number knowledge, and were better able to self-regulate, or manage stresses.
A government document frames the current education consultation as one that is required, given “the province’s current fiscal circumstances.”
The Progressive Conservative government is trying to trim a deficit that it pegs at $14.5-billion – though the financial-accountability officer says it’s closer to $12-billion.
Currently, the kindergarten class-size cap is 29 students, and the average of class sizes across any board can’t be more than 26. For the primary grades the cap is 23 students, but at least 90 per cent of classes in any board must have 20 or fewer students.