Is junior kindergarten duplicating Aboriginal Head Start program? report asks

As the junior kindergarten program in the N.W.T. enters its third year in 16 communities, teachers and parents are worried about the impact on other programs.

'It might mean making some changes," deputy education minister says

Children dressed up as ghosts and superheroes hit a piñata during their Halloween party at a preschool in Arctic Bay, Nunavut. (submitted by Salmo Inutiq)

As the junior kindergarten program enters its third year in 16 communities across the Northwest Territories, some teachers and parents are worried the program is pulling students away from Aboriginal Head Start, a program that teaches Indigenous cultural skills.

Rita Mueller, the territory's Assistant Deputy Minister of Education, Culture, and Employment, says the junior kindergarten program does incorporate local culture and language as much as possible.

"The goal of our entire school system is to strive to be as culturally appropriate as possible," she said. "We need to ensure that our schools are not only welcoming and safe for children, but they really need to reflect the children that we serve."

52 per cent of teachers see impact

In 2014, the department conducted a study on the roll out of junior kindergarten. Its findings showed that people noticed the effect junior kindergarten has on existing early childhood programs like AHS.

"Aboriginal Head Start [AHS] representatives' major concerns were the lack of consultation and the perception that JK was duplicating AHS programs," the reports says.

Mueller says AHS may need to refocus on younger children if there aren't enough kids for both programs.

"I am very hopeful that we will see both junior kindergarten roll out and provide that invaluable service to our communities — all communities — as well as to watch Aboriginal Head Start be able to thrive as well.

"And yes, it might mean making some changes."

The report also found that in communities where there were already early childhood education programs, "52 per cent [of teachers] believed there had been some impact on these early childhood programs."

Those teachers most often believed the previously existing programs had been put at risk by the number of children being siphoned off by junior kindergarten.

The education department plans to roll out junior kindergarten territory-wide next year.