Businesses urged to support full-day kindergarten

Daniel MacEachern
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Bennett Group of Companies CEO Cathy Bennett speaks to the St. Johns Board of Trade luncheon Tuesday at the Holiday Inn in St John’s. — Photo by Gary Hebbard/The Telegram

Businesswoman Cathy Bennett is urging the local business community to support full-day kindergarten.

In a lunch-time address to the St. John’s Board of Trade, Bennett — CEO of the Bennett Group of Cos., with interests in the restaurant, construction and property industries — told a packed house at the Holiday Inn on Tuesday that the best way to help children in the province reach their full potential is full-day senior and junior kindergarten.

“Overall research findings favour full-day kindergarten over the half-day program we have now,” Bennett said. “These studies suggest that full-day kindergarten is especially effective for children who are socially or educationally mismanaged. There are also a few studies which found that children who attend full-day kindergarten are less likely to enrol in special-education classes. And there is not one study that I can find which demonstrates a single academic or social advantage to restricting children to half-day kindergarten.”

Bennett outlined the social and economic case to the business crowd — including making the province more attractive to potential workers — even touching on a recent Telegram story about rising teen pregnancy rates in the province, noting young mothers would benefit from full-day junior and senior kindergarten by letting them go into the workforce or back into the educational system sooner.

“Not only does full-day kindergarten have educational benefits for children, it also has practical advantages for families in our communities,” she said.

“What a blessing it would be for those moms who are 15 to 19, for a way to finish their own opportunity to educate themselves and take advantage of the opportunities are out there. Not every family has the luxury of a stay-at-home parent or a guardian or the resources to afford day care, if they can find it at all. Full-day junior and senior kindergarten could help ease the burden of parents, grandparents and guardians in managing school drop offs and offering care.”

After her speech, Bennett said she appealed to the business community as a way to get people thinking about solutions.

“Until you bring people into a dialogue, you never know what the possibility is,” she said. “So if the vision is full-day junior and senior kindergarten, let’s get a whole bunch of us in a room and try to figure out how we can roll up our sleeves and make it happen. It’s too important to let barriers and things that get in our way of having good conversations slow us down.”

One conversation would be about government spending, in a year with a projected deficit of $725 million. But Bennett said solutions will be found if the government makes it a priority.

“I don’t know what the correct path is to get there, but what I do know is other jurisdictions have done it. They’ve figured out a way to make it happen,” she said.

“We’ve got a lot of smart people in government, in unions, in the community. We’ve got parents that are smart. We’ve got to be able to figure out a way of making this a priority so that we can see the benefit of it, not in 10 years, but the benefit of it this September.”

NDP Leader Lorraine Michael, on hand for the luncheon, said she was delighted to hear Bennett’s speech.

“Most social programs and most social issues do have an economic side to them, and you can build a really positive business case for most social programs, and what she did here today was just wonderful.”

The Conservative government has been studying the benefit — and cost — of full-day kindergarten. Education Minister Clyde Jackman told The Telegram last week that while the government hasn’t arrived at a final cost estimate, he believes full-day kindergarten will one day be implemented.

“I suspect at some point we are going to have full-day kindergarten,” he said Feb. 6.

“We are looking at it seriously as a government, based on sound educational practice. It’s something that I can conceivably say I think we will be entering into.”

Jackman said the problem of cost isn’t as much about annual cost — which New Democrat MHA Dale Kirby pegs at about $20 million to $24 million — but about the extra classrooms the school system would need.

Sharon Horan, the senior vice-chairwoman of the Board of Trade, commended Bennett’s remarks.

“We need to make that link and make people realize that as we improve the education system of our youth, when we improve the opportunities for our young people who are working to have access to good day care and not worry about where their children are and who’s picking them up at 12 o’clock, that this is really good, not only from a social context, but from a business context as well,” she said.

Horan said even though the Board of Trade often calls for reduced government spending, it’s important to look at cost-benefit arguments.

“I think many of us that are in business are really realizing that there’s productivity losses that exist when we don’t have a good social framework, and it’s really hard to put a dollar value on those productivity losses, but they impact us every day,” she said.

“And certainly with the labour market crisis we’re in right now, we need every available person who has skills to be working, and helping them with good social backup programs and services is really going to help us with that.”

Bennett acknowledged that bolstering the workforce would benefit her as a business owner, but insisted her speech was a personal passion that has been building for a while.

“When you’re given the gift of the opportunity we have in this province, that there’s an accountability to it,” she said.

“And if we don’t figure out how to fulfil the responsibility that comes with a gift of opportunity, by making things better for the next generation, then we’ve failed.”

Twitter: @TelegramDaniel

Organizations: Board of Trade, Bennett Group, Holiday Inn The Telegram

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Recent comments

  • A working mom
    February 14, 2013 - 06:53

    Yes I agree with T @Carmel you can,t have kids because children do have to be 5 before the end of December to attend kindergarden,don,t think we have to work because we want to we have to,I would nothing more then to stay at home with my kids.I,m not selfish,another thing you don,t think kids are ready for school at 4-5 years of age they can fool with a computer and games from they are 2 years old,and let me tell you these kids can do it better then most adults,it's about time kindergarden does full days.They are certainly ready,mine is anyway.

  • T
    February 13, 2013 - 13:24

    To Carmel: First of all a child has to be 5 years old to go to Kindergarten regardless if it is 1/2 or full days, so saying that children will be in Kindergarten at 3 or 4 years old is not accurate, so get you facts straight. Second of all, because myself and my husband are full-time workers and do not have the luxury of having a parent to stay home with our child, we have no choice but to send him to a daycare since he was 1 year old. This IN NO WAY makes us any less of a parent than others who either can afford to stay home or chose to stay at home on welfare as so many are doing. It is called survival my dear, survival. How a full day Kindergarten will be too hard on a child who has been going out to daycare daily I will never know. There is absolutely no difference.

    • Joan
      February 13, 2013 - 17:08

      I agree with T comments to Carmel.... Also Newfoundland and Labrador has to move ahead and get with the times, Full day kindergarten is offered in other provinces and seems to working out just fine. We were behind years ago at grade 11 before bringing in grade 12; are the high school students now hurting because grade 12 was implemented? Why would people want to hinder children from learning whether it be in kindergarten or grade 12?

  • darren
    February 13, 2013 - 13:15

    Cathy should stick to what she knows best.....and one of them is not education.

  • California Pete from NFLD
    February 13, 2013 - 12:31

    And who is ging to pay for it. The tax payer ??

  • Monty
    February 13, 2013 - 11:16

    I Fully Support Cathy Bennett! She has Full Day Kindergarden is needed!

  • Mytwocents
    February 13, 2013 - 10:28

    I fully support full day kindergarten. As a Mom of 3 (2 of which are already past kindergarten days) My experience has been that kindergarten has been confusing for them since they have to spend time at two different facilities during the day which means being transported mid-day. Kids today are more than ready for a full day of school in kindergarten. St John's has changed in recent years...most families have both parents working today. No doubt alot of parents like the idea of reduced daycare cost, but for the most part daycare will go from about $800 for full day to about $400 for afterschool, but once you add the extra activities you enroll kids in once they become school age, the reality is the cost is still there. I feel the kids are really the ones who will benefit from a full-day with the removal of mid-day transporting and remaining with the same group throughout the day. Also, education for our kids is something we should be moving ahead with in NL...aren't almost all other Province's there already? What is it our tourism ads say about NL being ahead??? I like Cathy Bennet. I think she's on the ball....

  • Educator
    February 13, 2013 - 09:27

    Actually, research shows that full day kindergarten is profitable for children immediately, but not prolonged. Students who attend full day kindergarten are more educationally advanced than students who attend half day only until both have finished grade one. Then they balance out. The only true benefit is less child care requirements.

  • Carmel
    February 13, 2013 - 07:58

    Ms. Bennet must have brought up this subject just for something to say in front of all those other people to make herself look good. Some parents are agreeing with this idea for their own selfish convenience. What about the child's emotional well being and feelings of security and trust? As well, if they go to Kindergarten full days at age three and four, it will be free babysitting, as someone mentioned. And, also, as someone suggested, a tax increase to pay for this; that's not fair to people who have no children in school. Put your little innocent child's feelings utmost, who have no choice or say in the matter, and your own convenience second.

  • Steve
    February 13, 2013 - 07:31

    I personally support full day kindergarten, but it must be paid for. I would support a small tax increase to pay for this. I wish some reporter would ask Ms. Bennett "If a tax increase was required in order to pay for full day kindergarten, would you still be in favour of it?" That will force her to really lay it on the line with her business colleagues.

  • A mom
    February 13, 2013 - 07:07

    I think kindergarden children should be in school for the full day,I can see giving them half day up until Christmas then ease them to full days.As you know most children today are in pre school up to two years before they attend kindergarten.Most parents work not just one but two,most families only have one car then there,s the hassle always having to leave work wether to take them to school or picking them up,so I agree it's time for a change.One thing the schools should put more time into is getting children more prepared going from Elementary to Jr High this is a big step dealing with children from other schools,fitting in and also keeping their marks up,some kids move in very easy and settle in others don,t I think the school board should do a program in this instead of just one day to visit their new school.Remember most kids go with the same friends from kindergarten though grade 6 then all of a sudden they are thrown in with a new bunch of kids they don,t know.

  • Cindy
    February 13, 2013 - 06:29

    Sounds like she is getting ready for politics. I wouldn't vote for her.

    • Kent
      February 13, 2013 - 13:41

      I agree... It seems like she is testing possible political aspirations with something I would regard as a non-issue... Of all the social issues facing NL these days, she picks half-day kindergarten? If she thinks she has her hand on the pulse of NL, she is clearly misguided.