Evaluating early education

Dave Bartlett
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Groups launch a year-long discussion on the early learning ideal

There is an effort afoot to answer the question, what is the ideal way to educate children five and younger?

The proponents say investments now in young learners will reap huge economic benefits in both the short and long term.

On Tuesday, three groups held a news conference in St. John’s to release a discussion paper on early childhood education and kick off a year of public discussions on the topic.

Margaret Norrie McCain, of the Margaret and Wallace McCain Family Foundation, said “early education helps children learn how to learn.”

“Little children today are the first generation who are spending a large part of their early childhood … outside the family home,” she added.

Kathy Pratt Legrow, chairwoman of the Jimmy Pratt Foundation, said even 30 years ago it was difficult to find daycare as a working mother, and “it certainly hasn’t improved since then.”

She said that puts some kids at a disadvantage at the preschool level, which follows them for the rest of their lives.

“To think that our society, in this day and age, is allowing this injustice to happen … that young children, through no fault of their own, are being marginalized by not having adequate access to good early learning and care,” she said.

David Philpott is the Pratt foundation’s research chairman and is on the faculty of education at Memorial University.

“Eighty-five per cent of the brain is developed by the time a child finishes kindergarten,” he said.

Philpott said research shows investments “in effective early learning programs produce benefits to children, families, communities and to society that far outweigh the cost.”

He said the discussion paper delves into the economic benefits of these programs and the costs of not putting them in place.

Mike Clair is associate director of MUN’s Harris Centre, which has teamed with the foundations in the year-long project.

He said in the long term, investments in early learning “lower costs in social welfare, criminal justice (and) remedial education.”

The paper contains statistics on what other provinces have achieved, but the three groups agree a made-in-Newfoundland and Labrador approach must be tailor made for this province.

It also notes that early learning programs, run by trained educators, can help identify learning disabilities so they can be addressed at a younger age.

The paper also states this province is in the basement on early learning investment, and the current 10-year commitment by the provincial government to improve that will only get Newfoundland and Labrador a few steps from the bottom.

The groups were to meet with Premier Kathy Dunderdale later Tuesday, and McCain, a former lieutenant governor of New Brunswick, also gave a speech Tuesday night at MUN on how early childhood education has been affected by changes in the labour force and family structure.

A workshop is also being held today on quality early childhood education at the Johnson Geo Centre.

The groups have already booked three speakers to come to St. John’s to give public lectures on early childhood education, beginning in March 2014.

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Organizations: Margaret and Wallace McCain Family Foundation, Jimmy Pratt Foundation, Harris Centre Johnson Geo Centre.The

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick

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  • Charlotte Lucas
    November 06, 2013 - 17:10

    Maybe we need more science to prove what we all instinctively know. The health and wellbeing, physical development and neural development; all key components in setting children up for future educational success, takes place in settings that promote a learning environment that understands the importance of child initiated, free-flow learning opportunities.