Ontario Minister of Education Stephen Lecce recently announced that the government of Ontario plans to take teaching “back to basics” reading, writing, and math through kindergarten.
It’s true that Ontario’s current play-based model in kindergarten has not been successful. A change is needed. However, instead of basing this change on the root causes why students are not prepared for first grade, our government is clinging to a quick-fix strategy based on headline-grabbing buzzwords (“back to the old school days”). basic”) and the simplistic notion that “It used to be better.”
If that was better before. Thirty years ago, kindergarten and kindergarten classes typically had 14 students. If a 15th student was added, an educational assistant was assigned and class size was limited.
Today, this same classroom could hold twice that number. The increase in class sizes is justified by having two teachers in the classroom, but the reality persists. Thirty children, as young as three years old, at various stages of development and some with undisclosed behavioral problems, are stored all day in a classroom built for 15 students.
The result is needy, noisy children who seek attention through voluntary or involuntary extreme behaviors. Those who are less likely to demonstrate extreme behaviors begin to emulate those who do because, after all, they are only three, four, or five years old and need attention.
Exacerbating the problem? Principals are increasingly unavailable, administrative assistants are overworked, and educational assistants are at risk of burnout.
Yes, it was better before. Twenty years ago, a kindergarten or early childhood education program still had a shorter day, not a full day every day.
This shorter day recognized the needs of a young child, many of whom still need a nap, and addressed their initial inability to maintain focus throughout the day.
Yes, it was better before. Fifteen years ago, there was still the option to have separate classes for kindergarten and kindergarten.
Our most vulnerable students, ages three to five, had the opportunity to start school with a focus on self-regulation and exploration in kindergarten. In kindergarten, they were prepared for a greater emphasis on numeracy and literacy skills.
The government’s “back to basics” solution does not address the real causes of students failing to enter first grade: too many students, too many diverse needs, too little space, too little support for staff, and a curriculum of Too demanding full day. . However, the government’s solution does address a policy agenda of insufficiently defunding early learning programs (and implicitly encouraging “teacher bashing” over unavoidable, discouraging outcomes).
If only our education system recognized that money invested in our youngest and most vulnerable students would save the enormous expenses of trying to address deep-rooted learning deficits in higher grades.
Shame on that system for trying to fool us all with quick-fix strategies while early years learning programs are imploding.
Gwen Flaherty is a retired kindergarten teacher from the Waterloo Catholic District School Board. She taught half-day kindergarten programs in the morning and afternoon, full day every other day, and finally full day every day while she raised three children who were also attending the school system.
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