A long awaited review of the N.W.T.'s plan to expand the junior kindergarten confirms the concerns many Northerners expressed when the program first rolled out in 2014.
The controversial program is currently offered in 16 communities, and the plan had been to expand it to larger regional centres like Yellowknife and Inuvik.
During the life of the last government, some MLAs said the program was unnecessary in large communities where there are already successful programs for young children, such as Aboriginal Headstart, the French preschool in Hay River, as well as local day homes.
Others questioned starting the program without additional money in school boards' budgets, wondering how school boards were supposed to cope with cuts, and where money for supplies and extra teachers would come from.
Concerns like those put a halt to the expansion back in 2014, pending a review.
Complaints and responses
The new report summarizes the opinions of parents, educators and stakeholders across the territory, and lays out recommendations for the new government going forward.
Challenges for educators in a number of communities included not only implementation issues — like helping parents understand the program — but also a lack of adequate and knowledgeable staff to create programs for junior kindergarten students. Some parents mirrored those worries, voicing concerns about the level of adult supervision.
Many community stakeholders believed implementation was rushed and not well planned, leaving the GNWT unable to anticipate the questions and issues communities faced.
However, people identified potential benefits as well, including: early assessment and intervention, the opportunity to support early literacy and language skills development, as well as the development of numeracy and social skills.
Are there ways to improve the program?
According to the report, an expanded program would need a better communications strategy and a comprehensive, locally sensitive implementation plan.
The government needs to address appropriate student-teacher ratios, and provide more teacher professional development related to early childhood education.
The report also recommends the government develop a funding model in consultation with the local education authorities, as it may need to vary depending on community strengths and needs.
The program — and the report — will likely again be a topic of discussion when the Legislative Assembly reconvenes next month.
According to the MLA for Kam Lake Keiron Testart, many of the "recommendations have been accepted by the government, and the government seems to recognize they need to do better."
"It was well intended but it wasn't implemented to the best ability of what our education system could support."