Nfld. & Labrador

The great all-day kindergarten debate: Critics say not the right time, principals say schools are ready

All-day kindergarten begins Wednesday for the first time province-wide in Newfoundland

All-day kindergarten begins province-wide Sept. 7

Kindergarten students across the province will be spending the entire school day in the classroom as of Sept. 7. (Colleen Connors/CBC)

All-day kindergarten is taking off for the first time province-wide in the English school district on Wednesday.

And though it's a done deal at this point, critics are saying it's not the right time to fulfil this election promise and schools still aren't ready.

"We are ready to go, and I've said that all along since January since we made this promise to implement full-day kindergarten for this September," Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development Dale Kirby told Here and Now.

"We've worked very hard. I mean, in truth there's been a number of years of preparation for this because it was announced under the previous administration, but we're ready to go. There's been a lot of expansion done, and classroom renovations, teachers have received probably the most professional development in any area that they've received in recent years. So we've put a lot into this."

Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development Dale Kirby says schools are ready to go for all-day kindergarten. (Gary Locke/CBC)

Progressive Conservative education critic David Brazil said he's been told a number of schools are not ready for all-day kindergarten, while NDP Leader Earle McCurdy said he's heard at least some are not.

"Our party supported the principle of all-day kindergarten, the evidence supports that it's a good investment in kids," McCurdy told CBC Radio's The St. John's Morning Show.

"Having said that, we don't support doing it at the expense of other parts of the education system, including the increased class sizes, multi-grading and all the other things that went on." 

Critics say timing isn't right

Brazil agrees that all-day kindergarten is important, but disagrees with the timing of its implementation.

"The issue here becomes, because of the economic situation, if you do all-day kindergarten you're doing it at the expense of a number of other students," Brazil said. 

"And the same students who in a year or two or three are going to be looking for programs, are going to struggle in certain areas because of class sizes or access to programs." 

NDP Leader Earle McCurdy says the provincial government shouldn't have implemented all-day kindergarten this year at the expense of other programs. (Ted Dillon/CBC)

Brazil referenced increased class sizes, the loss of intensive core French and blended grades as detrimental effects of all-day kindergarten. 

"I think the job of critics is to criticize," Kirby said. "This is the best investment that we can make in our youngest learners in our schools. The research on full-day kindergarten, as opposed to the half day, consistently shows that children who do a full day of kindergarten are better prepared for Grade 1."

Kirby said the money for all-day kindergarten will come from the same place as everything else — government borrowing and taxation.

This is the best investment that we can make in our youngest learners...- Education Minister Dale Kirby

The province has spent $30 million over the past few years getting ready for the full-day program. The annual cost of operating the expanded program will be $13 million, by today's estimates.

Despite the cost, Kirby stands by the decision to proceed.

"When I came on the scene, significant investment was already made, significant preparation was already done and we didn't feel that pulling back on this was going to work for the province right now," he said.

"If we can't afford to invest this amount of money in our youngest learners in this province, then I'm not sure what we have money to invest in. We will get a good return on this investment as all the other provinces that have adopted this model for kindergarten are getting right now." 

MHA David Brazil says he's heard that a number of schools are not ready to begin full-day kindergarten on Wednesday. (CBC)

Principals say schools are good to go

Schools in the province have been busy preparing for full-day kindergarten for the past couple of years. 

Two principals on the west coast say their schools are ready for the change.

Norma Park is the principal of Pasadena Elementary. She said teachers have now been given the gift of time. 

Though the kindergarten curriculum hasn't changed since 2010, the teachers now have the time to get through the "jam-packed" material, Park said.

"It was a real struggle to try and get all of those things covered in just two and a half hours per day," she said.

Brian Higdon, the principal of J.J. Curling Elementary in Corner Brook, said parents are nervous about the change, but that is nothing new. 

"Parents, of course as you would expect, are apprehensive just as they've always been sending their child off to kindergarten, sending them out into the big world," he told The Corner Brook Morning Show.

Parents…are apprehensive just as they've always been sending their child off to kindergarten.- Principal Brian Higdon, J.J. Curling Elementary

"There's an apprehension and an anxiety that comes with that for parents as there always has. And this year of course they're there for half a day longer. Our staff, our teachers — particularly our kindergarten teachers — are ready, and they know there's going to be some changes and some adjustments for some children."

Park's school got an extension to accommodate the all-day program. Other preparations include fresh paint, new furniture and new toys.

While she admits there will be some growing pains, Park said the schools and teachers are ready to embrace the change.

"We can't wait to get those little four and five-year-olds tomorrow to see how it's all going to go," she said.

With files from The St. john's Morning Show, Here and Now and The Corner Brook Morning Show