Quebec Liberals announce 111 new kindergarten classes for 4-year-olds starting in September

The party says the classes, which are part of a $130-million investment in education over five years, will "better prepare children for school."

New classes are part of a $130-million investment in education to 'better prepare children for school'

The new classes are expected to start in September in schools across Quebec. (Josée Ducharme/Radio-Canada)

Quebec's Liberal government has announced it will add over 100 kindergarten classes for four-year-old children for the start of the next school year, all of which will be in disadvantaged communities across the province.

The Liberals announced a $130-million investment in education over five years on Monday, including 111 new kindergarten classes for four-year-olds, as part of a plan to "better prepare children for school."

The new classes are expected to start in September.

That would bring the total number of kindergarten classes for four-year-olds to 400 across the province, after the program was first introduced in 2013.

That's still far fewer than what would be needed to accommodate every four-year-old Quebecer, however.

Investment comes ahead of October vote

The announcement comes a few days after the Liberals said they plan to offer free child care for those under four, should they be re-elected in October.

For Education Minister Sébastien Proulx, having more kindergarten classes is all about improving the quality of early childhood education.

In Quebec, about 70 per cent of four-year-olds are in public daycares (CPEs). Most of the children who are not currently enrolled in CPEs live in disadvantaged communities.

Sébastien Proulx, the minister of Education, Recreation and Sports, says having more kindergarten classes for four-year-olds will help better the quality of early childhood education in Quebec. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

Proulx said parents with lower incomes are less likely to have access to educational child care services.

That's where the free kindergarten classes come in, as a way to make sure youngsters from low-income families start learning early — and more easily make a successful transition to elementary school.

The government said it plans to hire transition officers to work with school boards to ease the introduction of the 111 new classes, at an estimated cost of $8 million.

Another $3 million will be invested in educational material for the four-year-olds, while $600,000 will go to purchasing new books for students from kindergarten to Grade 2.

Responding to the announcement, Coalition Avenir Québec leader François Legault criticized the Liberals' plan for only giving six per cent of four-year-old children in Quebec access to kindergarten.

He said his party, which is leading in the latest opinion polls, would ensure that all four-year-olds can enrol in free kindergarten.

Lack of resources an issue, study finds

A March study from Université du Québec à Montréal found that the four-year-old kindergarten pilot project has not yet met its objectives, however.

Christa Japel in UQAM's department of education and specialized training, who headed the study, said it hasn't adequately prepared the children for elementary school.

"We haven't allocated enough money to teachers to create an environment that is stimulating and accessible for four-year-olds," Japel told Radio-Canada when the study was published.

She called on the government improve the quality of its services for four-year-olds.

That's a priority for the Liberals, Proulx said on Monday.

"My concern is to make sure that in our four-year-old kindergarten classes, there is quality, training and real gains for the children," he said.

Kerry McQuaig, a fellow in early childhood policy at the University of Toronto, said providing high-quality education to all children, not just those from disadvantaged communities, is the best way to ensure those students' success.

"That's where you begin to see those changes and outcomes which helps them succeed — to graduate on time and to really instill in them a love of learning," McQuaig said.

With files from Cathy Senay and Radio-Canada