New Brunswick

Margaret McCain pushes for expanding education to include 4 year olds

Margaret McCain says if the province is serious about fixing its literacy problems it needs to make radical changes.

Former lieutenant-governor says 'New Brunswick can't thrive ... until we correct our literacy deficits'

Former Lt.-Gov. Margaret McCain says New Brunswick should adopt the Nordic model of early childhood education. (CBC)

Former lieutenant governor Margaret McCain says if the provincial government is serious about fixing its literacy problems it needs to make radical changes that could mean an expansion of public education.

McCain said it's time to adopt the Finnish model and expand public education to include four-year-olds and then three-year-olds.

The Finnish model integrates early learning and care within the public system, which McCain said she feels is the best strategy.

"If we want to reach all children, the public education system is a well-established system where there's room for extending education downward," she said.

I think there will be some resistance because everybody fears change.- Margaret McCain

"You provide equal opportunity for all children. Public education is well-funded, well-structured, well-respected. It's available, it's affordable, it's accessible and most of all there would be consistency of curriculum for all children ... this is how you give every child an equal opportunity."

​McCain said she is not talking about having little ones behind desks.

What she was describing would look like a daycare but staffed with well-educated early childhood education professionals and teachers.

"It has to adjust to parents' workdays," she said.

"Seventy per cent of children have two working parents. Parents need to work and we need them to work. Society has to move in to do the best — help support parents — and do the best we can to see that children get the development that they need."

Critical of literacy report

McCain said some of the 37 recommendations made in a new report on improving literacy in New Brunswick have been tried and tested and don't work. (CBC)

McCain said on Information Morning Fredericton she had mixed feelings about the recently released provincial literacy report, adding there were some very good plans in it but others will not work.

"The 37 recommendations in the literacy report are things that have been tried and tested in the last 20 years, mostly in the United States and they simply don't work," she said.

"They're feel good. They look good. They sound good and I wish they worked but they don't."

McCain said one in five people in the province are functionally illiterate and "couldn't read directions on a medicine bottle or a newspaper." 

The literacy report mentions encouraging parents to sing, talk, and read to their kids.

"When you have parents that can't read themselves, it's very hard to read to their kids," said McCain.

Turning to the community to build strategies to improve literacy outcomes just isn't good enough.

"It would be fragmented, hit and miss," she said. 

Wise investment

The New Brunswick Literacy Secretariat presented a literacy report to Finance Minister Cathy Rogers in Moncton on June 10 with 37 recommendations aimed at improving the province's low literacy rates. (Pierre Fournier/CBC)

McCain said it's an investment, but also spending money better, more effectively.

The former lieutenant governor said the provincial government could look to Ottawa for funds in setting up this program.

She pointed to the recent federal budget that included $500 million to develop an early learning framework with the provinces.

McCain said there will be resistance from private daycares.

"I think there will be some resistance because everybody fears change. And there is a sector of the daycare sector — which is a for-profit," she said.

But she said there will be accommodations, as Prince Edward Island has done successfully for daycares.

"If there is an early childhood education sector that wants to remain private then in my vision we have to see them as we do our independent schools. They have to meet certain standards," McCain said. 

"This is the Nordic model. We have established demonstration sites in Ontario. We have take that model across Canada ... We've paid for the research and evaluation on these models to tailor them so they fit New Brunswick [and elsewhere]." 

McCain said it's going to take time and will not change overnight but there will be improvements.

"New Brunswick can't thrive economically, socially in any way until we correct our literacy deficits," she said.

With files from Information Morning Fredericton


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