Montreal

CAQ government moves to offer pre-K classes across province

Quebec Premier François Legault is pledging to make pre-kindergarten available to four-year-olds across the province within the next five years, despite concerns from school boards about the strain the added classes would put on the education system.

Promise was key plank in François Legault's election campaign

Education Minister Jean-François Roberge, left, and Premier François Legault, announce the government's commitment to introduce pre-K across the province. (Radio-Canada)

Quebec Premier François Legault is pledging to make pre-kindergarten available to four-year-olds across the province within the next five years, despite concerns from school boards about the strain the added classes would put on the education system.

Legault said the proposed changes would bring Quebec in line with Ontario and New York and "most of the places in Europe," where school begins at age four. He acknowledged that the change was controversial but said it was the right thing to do.

"For me, it makes sense that if we bring children in school earlier, especially the ones having learning difficulties, that it will help them," Legault said Thursday in announcing the commitment in a Quebec City classroom, alongside Education Minister Jean-François Roberge.

"We have to think about what's the best for our children."

The Coalition Avenir Québec tabled legislation earlier in the day to amend the province's Education Act to ensure "all children having reached four years of age will be entitled to preschool education services," regardless of the "economic area that they live in."

As it stands, pre-K classes are available only in schools in areas that qualify as low-income.

If passed, Bill 5 would also require the service to be offered by "all school boards according to the general framework provided for in the Education Act."

Private schools will also be able to offer the pre-K service under the proposed changes.

The CAQ isn't listening, opponents say

The pledge to expand pre-K was a key plank in the CAQ's election campaign, but school boards have argued universal pre-kindergarten would be costly and difficult to implement.

The Commission Scolaire de Montréal (CSDM), the province's largest school board, is among those that have expressed concern about the proposal.

We are creating a parallel system that in the end won't necessarily be helpful for children.- Marie-Claude Lemieux, Association québécoise des centres de la petite enfance

The CSDM, which is already facing a staffing shortage, would require 475 additional classrooms — the equivalent of 23 new schools — to introduce pre-K across its network, according to Radio-Canada.

Marwah Rizqy, the Liberal Party's education critic, said Thursday the CAQ's proposal doesn't address a pressing need.

The government "is more intent on fulfilling their promise than listening to their network," she said. 

Not compulsory

Legault has stressed that pre-K won't be compulsory and that the public daycare system will continue to play an important role in the province.

He pegged the plan's annual price tag at between $400 million and $700 million a year. Legault said further details would be included in the CAQ's budget, expected in early spring.

Marie-Claude Lemieux, director of public affairs at the Association québécoise des centres de la petite enfance, which represents the publicly subsidized daycare network, said the association is concerned children, particularly those with special needs, won't always get the attention they need in pre-K. 

Currently, the educator-to-child ratio is one-to-10 for four-year-olds in a CPE, and one-to-17 in a kindergarten classroom.

"We are creating a parallel system that in the end won't necessarily be helpful for children," she said.

About the Author

Benjamin Shingler covers politics, immigration and social issues for CBC Montreal. Follow him on Twitter @benshingler.

With files from Verity Stevenson

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.