Monday, October 21, 2013

Answers To Government Survey, Part 3: Equity and Full-day Kindergarten

Here are my answers to Questions 3 and 4 of the government survey on the future of education in Ontario. (For an explanation of the survey, and the public consultation process of which it is a part, see here.)

Question 3: From your perspective, what further opportunities exist to close gaps and increase equity to support all children and students in reaching their full potential?

Homework is also part of the answer to this question. (See my response to Question 2 for more about homework.) Consider that, starting in the early grades, a child who has support at home to help him or her navigate the vast amounts of often age-inappropriate homework (i.e., homework that requires an adult's input) is at an academic advantage. And when, with a parent's help, such a child begins to do well on assignments, he or she gains confidence, which then fuels more success. So what might start out as a small advantage is amplified as the child progresses through the grades, by virtue of the boost to self-confidence and cognitive development that parental support provides. For this reason, homework is as much an equity issue as it is an issue of student well-being. A level playing field requires that kids be able to succeed in school without a great deal of family support, for the simple reason that not all kids have it.

Another phenomenon to consider is "streaming," which occurs in our officially non-streaming system through the back door—i.e., via "special" programs like French Immersion and "gifted" programs. We should keep in mind that Finland's system has managed to close achievement gaps based on economic background by focussing on supporting all students in regular classes—no "gifted" classes or special programs, but a lot of local flexibility with respect to how schools are run and how curricula are implemented. We could take a page out of the Finnish book on this subject.* (Oh, and Finnish kids have very little homework, even in high school!)

Question 4: How does the education system need to evolve as a result of changes to child care and the implementation of full-day kindergarten?

I don't know. I’m not sure I support full-day kindergarten for all kids because I think it can be exhausting for four- and five-year-olds to be in school all day, even in so-called play-based kindergarten classes. If we had an adequate, fully subsidized day care system—like Qu├ębec’s, for instance—would we need full-day kindergarten? Why confuse education and daycare? (And maybe consider bringing back naps in kindergarten. I remember quite enjoying the naps.)

*There actually is a book on this subject and many other facets of the Finnish education system: Finnish Lessons, by Pasi Sahlberg.

(See also my answers to questions 1 and 2 of the survey here and here.)

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