Province postponing public pre-kindergarten program until 2021
'Parents will be disappointed of course— that's probably what they were budgeting for'
The P.E.I. government is postponing plans for a free, half-day pre-kindergarten program for four-year-olds, and is now aiming for next September instead.
The province had hoped to launch the optional program at Island child-care centres this upcoming September but the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a change of plans..
"The decision was made to defer the start date as a direct result of the impact to the early learning and child care sector from COVID-19," said Carolyn Simpson, the province's early years advisor, in an email to child-care centre operators on Monday.
Officials have said the program's aim will be to better prepare four-year-olds for kindergarten, which is part of P.E.I.'s school system.
The promise of the free program was a key plank in the PC's education platform during the 2019 election campaign.
Officials with the province said the 75 per cent of Island children in the four-year-old age bracket who already attend an early childhood program won't lose their spots as a result of the delay.
The difference is they won't be following a new public pre-kindergarten curriculum, and caregivers will have to continue to pay child-care fees.
'There were definitely concerns'
"There were definitely concerns from the sector and from the Opposition about the timelines, so we took it all into account," said Minister of Education and Lifelong Learning Brad Trivers in an interview Thursday.
"We listen to feedback when it's given to us. And given the situation with [COVID-19] and those other concerns, we decided it was most prudent to delay it until September 2021."
Sonya Hooper, executive director of P.E.I.'s Early Childhood Development Association, says even before the pandemic, time was getting tight to effectively plan and execute the program.
'Enough on their plates'
Since March, Hooper said centres have been preoccupied, adapting to changing health guidelines, capacity rules and safety protocols.
"To be honest, it was somewhat comforting," Hooper said.
"Centres have been dealing with a lot with COVID-19 and their restrictions, and reopening and so on. So they really have enough on their plates right now."
"I certainly think parents will be disappointed of course — that's probably what they were budgeting for, and planning on. But I do hope it's met with understanding as well because centres had no idea what would be before us with COVID-19."