by Joanne den Boer, SCSBC Director of Learning ◊
Freedom of choice – this is one of the blessings of living in a democracy. As a Christian community we cherish the right and privilegeto make choices in our Canadian society. Although we believe parents are the primary educators of their children (Deuteronomy 6:7), one of the most important choices parents make is when to send their child to school, and where. Many Christian parents partner with a Christian school that offers an educational program taught from a biblical framework, one that reflects the values in their homes.
Until very recently, most SCSBC schools have provided parents with a half-day kindergarten (HDK) program for their five- year-old child. For many schools, the half-day program is scheduled for a full day on alternate days. In the last year, two SCSBC schools have offered a concurrent full-day, every-day program for a few students, thus providing choice to the parents based on the needs of their child. But with the BC provincial government’s commitment to fund only full-day kindergarten1 to all five-year-old children in the province by 2011, some parents and some schools are raising questions about choice.
The concept of full-day, everyday kindergarten (FDK) is not new to British Columbia. It has been available to schools for years, most often targeting at-risk students. Typically, students with special learning needs, students whose first language is not English, or First Nation students are enrolled in FDK.2 Up until now, it has been the decision of boards of education to decide whether to offer FDK. In other words, there has not been universal, provincially-funded access to FDK. This about to change.
Commencing September 2010, about half of all five-year-olds in BC will have access to funded full-day kindergarten, not just the vulnerable population. For one more year, the other half of the five-year-olds will continue in funded, half-day kindergarten. To prepare for this, the Independent School e-board bulletin of October 19, 2009 informed independent schools they could apply to the government of BC to offer a funded full-day option of kindergarten. It came with the understanding that “schools proposing to offer FDK and half-day programs concurrently [would] not be considered”. This dilemma was a disappointment to many of our schools. Most of them did not apply, choosing to wait and see how the initiative will develop. With the inevitable full phase in of FDK for all five-year-olds in September 2011, nine SCSBC schools forged ahead and were approved by the Ministry to offer kindergarten, full day, every day.
An unexpected turn of events occurred on January 15, 2010 when the Independent School e-board announced that “independent schools whose FDK proposals were approved for implementation and funding in September 2010 can, if they choose, offer funded half-day kindergarten and FDK concurrently for the 2010/11 school year only.” The SCSBC is pleased with this new development, as it will allow the schools who have already been approved for full-day kindergarten to offer parents the choice of sending their child to either the FDK or HDK program. This opens the hope for discussion with the Ministry to see if this opportunity could be extended after September 2011.
Since 1977, independent schools have been receiving a percentage of government funding to provide educational programs based upon Ministry of Education prescribed learning outcomes and compliance with the Independent School Act. Within those parameters, independent schools could choose to design their own educational programs. Thus, a precedent to partially fund independent schools has already been set, including half-day kindergarten and some full-day kindergarten classes (albeit for a specific group of learners.)
Commencing 2011, the government states that it will fund only FDK but not HDK. Why? It claims research shows that parents, when given a choice, will switch to FDK, hence there is little point to offer HDK. Indeed, these claims are supported by research.3,4 However, one wonders if the data can be categorically applied to BC parents. When the government conducted a feasibility study in April 2008, there was plenty of support for FDK, but also caution that parental choice should be considered. 5
The Ministry of Education does, indeed, offer parental choice. It states that it is a parental decision to enroll their children in kindergarten. Kindergarten is not compulsory. Five-year-olds do not have to go to school, although it is almost unheard of in the 21st century. Parents can choose to send their child to kindergarten – full-day, alternate days, half-day – or not at all. The Ministry also states that “by the 2011/12 school year [full-day kindergarten] will be available to all who want it.”6 The choice here seems to be either FDK, or no kindergarten at all. Is it presumptuous to believe that most parents in BC who want kindergarten for their child will want access to full-day kindergarten only?
Research shows that parents who want FDK are often dual-income earners who are challenged to find quality before-and-after school child care that is affordable and accommodates their working schedule.7 This is exacerbated when the child goes daily to either kindergarten in a morning or afternoon session. These parents know that a seamless, wrap-around care reduces the number of daily transitions in the life of their young child. For others, their child already has had two years in preschool, and is now more than ready to attend school full time 8. For them, FDK is a welcome option.
By contrast, several SCSBC schools, after polling their parent community, learned that there are some parents who do not want FDK. Some of these parents simply want to enjoy having their young child home as long as possible, and a half-day schedule suits them best. Some studies have found that proponents of the half-day schedule find it better suited for their child because “full day is too much for a five-year-old.”9 Dr. Brannon, in her developmental study, observed that parents who want the HDK option do so because they know their child lacks maturity to participate in school all day, every day. They also appreciated having more time to provide extra curricular activities emanating from the home that enriched learning, claiming these were advantageous to the maturing of their child.10
Parents on either side of the issue appreciate having choice for full- or half-day kindergarten, claiming that the decision is best made based on the child’s maturity to handle being in school all day, every day, or not.11 Dr. Elkind, a well-known child psychologist, also advocates for both full- and half-day programs, and if a full-day program is offered, it should ensure that it is “most in keeping with five-year-olds’ levels of ability and of energy.” 12 Expecting that funding will be tied into offering full-day kindergarten only, running a dual option may present challenges for many of our schools in the future. In the meantime, nine of our schools may elect to offer both full- and half-day options, with funding provided.
Does the challenge effectually eliminate parental choice? Factually, no. Could a school still choose to offer a half-day kindergarten program? Yes, of course; it is not prohibited to offer HDK. However, at this point, the government has not made any overture to fund it after September 2011. Thus, what the government has provided to its citizens for many decades may be withheld in deference to a new (unwanted, by some parents) FDK program. At the public school level, it would appear that schools will not have a choice but to offer FDK.
It is apparent that across our SCSBC community, parents have different needs, expectations, and desires for their kindergarten-age children. Since each Christian school is an autonomous, independent school authority, with a vision and mission that reflects its own unique characteristics, it is in the best position to know which program, full-day or half-day kindergarten, will best meet the needs of parents and their children. For some schools it is full-day kindergarten; for others it is half-day kindergarten; and for many schools a combination of programs would be ideal. Many schools would like to give parents a choice of programs, but may hesitate if the choice will come at a cost.
The Society of Christian Schools in BC is not opposed to FDK since research has shown that it can benefit certain children, at-risk or not. Although the evidence is mixed about the efficacy of FDK, there is no research to suggest that FDK is detrimental to children.13 There are many advantages to having a full-time option, but to say it is beneficial to all children is probably an exaggeration.
Parents know their children best, and the decision to choose the optimum scheduling option is preferably left to parents. Therefore, a best-case scenario would be to see funding available for FDK, HDK, and an educational program that offers both, just like it will be for September 2010. Doing so would continue to honour the government’s long history of providing parental choice.