NL announces new pre-kindergarten program to create more regulated child care spaces

A new pilot pre-kindergarten program, set to begin this fall, will be offered in 35 schools across Newfoundland and Labrador. (Mark Cumby/CBC)

About 600 more child care spaces will open in Newfoundland and Labrador this fall, following the provincial government’s announcement Thursday of a new preschool early learning pilot program.

The program is set to launch in 35 schools in 28 communities, but an expert says there are still things to watch out for.

David Philpott, a retired Memorial University professor of education and longtime advocate for improving the province’s child care system, told CBC News on Thursday that the program was a great step forward, which has been long overdue. come.

“I’m relieved it’s in schools because it has to be seen as educational. It has to be curricular,” Philpott said.

“We need a continuum of learning that starts in the early grades and follows those kids all the way through.”

The program was created with $347 million in federal funding announced in March and is expected to be fully implemented by 2025-26 with approximately 3,100 regulated spaces in NL, operated by organizations not for profit and not by the school district.

Families will pay the regulated child care rate for each child in the program: $15 per day for the remainder of 2022 and $10 per day beginning in 2023. The program will run full-time, including during the summer.

But Philpott says the workforce isn’t there yet. He was part of a team that presented a similar idea in 2010. The plan at the time was to have two pilot schools in the province offering free child care: inside the school system and managed by the school system. In 2017, Philpott also served on the province’s education task force, when he pitched the idea again.

“Without a doubt, we don’t have enough well-trained early childhood educators in this province because they’ve been so poorly paid. It is a sector which has been authorized to [have] very low wages and poor job prospects,” he said.

In the March funding announcement, the federal and provincial governments included a one-time investment of approximately $6.5 million and a host of other new measures – including a planned wage increase for early childhood educators childhood by January 1 and approximately 700 additional places in post-secondary institutions. early learning and child care programs — to support the early childhood workforce. The hope is to increase the percentage of fully certified early childhood educators working in the sector to at least 60% by 2025-2026.

David Philpott, a retired education professor at Memorial University, says the provincial government needs to monitor the quality of early childhood education training to ensure new graduates aren’t rushed into programs in the goal of strengthening the workforce. (Radio Canada)

Philpott said it was also a big step forward, but he feared the push for more educators could jeopardize training.

“The government needs to monitor the quality of these new programs and make sure we’re getting highly qualified early childhood educators and not people who have gone through programs,” he said.

“We can’t afford it. We have to make sure these people are well trained.”

Open to children starting kindergarten in 2023

Family registration dates will be announced by the nonprofit organizations running the program once the opening dates are finalized for each site.

The Ministry of Education issued a request for proposals on Thursday for established groups to submit their qualifications and apply to run the scheme. In a press release, the department said preference will be given to organizations that demonstrate they can manage multiple sites, with a June 6 submission deadline.

The first locations will open in fall 2022 or winter 2023, the Department of Education said, to any child starting kindergarten in September 2023. Places will be available for any child in that age range, whether or not they have existing child care, as any transfer of a child from an existing child care space will open up a space for another child.

At a press conference on Thursday, Education Minister Tom Osborne said the provincial government has worked with the school district to determine which schools have the capacity to authorize a classroom for the program. He said some are ready to go but others need some tweaking.

“We also looked at the population and the demand for early learning in different parts of the province,” he said.

“I know other communities and other parents in other parts of the province will be looking to have pre-kindergarten as soon as we can expand, and we are already working on expanding for next year.”

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