III. Benchmarks focused on equitable access

The OECD recommended Canada “continue efforts to expand access while promoting greater equity” (p. 8). Equitable access is more associated with entitlement programs such as kindergarten. However, kindergarten does not address parents’ need for child care. Equity is but one more of the benefits of organizing ECE to meet the educational needs of children, at the same time as facilitating their parents’ workforce participation. Barriers to ECE participation are many: economic, geographical, cultural, language, hours of service, etc. One area where all provinces have made a concerted effort is by targeting resources to enable programs to include children with special needs.

Benchmark 8: Full-day kindergarten offered          

Full-day kindergarten has become the norm across Canada; it is now offered by 6 out the 10 provinces and is under consideration in others. Full-day kindergarten also reflects the duration threshold, which research indicates is more likely to improve academic and social outcomes for children (Reynolds, 2011).

Benchmark 9: 50 percent of 2–4-year-olds regularly attend an ECE program

The definition for this benchmark refers to regular attendance in a centre or school-based program that is staffed by qualified educators following a program designed to meet the educational and developmental needs of the children. This benchmark focuses on 2- to 4-year-olds, the group for which there is high unmet demand for ECE. Five-year-olds were excluded since the majority already attend kindergarten. Infants are a less likely group to participate in ECE programs because of extended parental leave.

The number of 2- to 4-year olds attending ECE programs by province was calculated using a custom tabulation of NLSCY data from a survey that asked parents their primary form of child care. The survey only captures child care use if the parent worked or went to school. It does not include school-offered ECE programs. Many children in families where a parent is not working also regularly attend some form of preschool. The calculation therefore includes a conservative estimate of 20 percent of children ages 2 to 4 years who have a non-working parent and who are not captured by the NLSCY survey. It also estimates enrollment in early childhood education programs that are offered as part of the public education system and uses government reports of attendance in pre-kindergarten. School-provided parent/caregiver–child programs offer an intentional program and are regularly attended by families. They are included in this calculation. Care was taken not to double count children attending pre-kindergarten who also attend child care.

UNICEF’s benchmark is set at 80 percent of 4-year-olds regularly attending an ECE program and 25 percent of children under 3-year-old. Fifty percent of 2- to 4-year-olds represents a reasonable and achievable benchmark for Canada (see Figure 5.8).

Benchmark 10: Funding is conditional on including children with special needs

The threshold for this benchmark is provincial policy that requires programs to give equal consideration to the enrollment of children with special needs as a policy direction or condition of funding. Funding as an incentive without policy directions does not provide parents with recourse if their child is excluded from participation.

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