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Full-Day Learning Key to Build a Brighter Future for Ontario

By Dr. Helena Jaczek, MPP, Oak Ridges - Markham

Experts tell us that the first few years of a child’s life are extremely important to their development.

Extensive research shows that a child’s experiences during the early years have the greatest influence of any time in the life cycle on brain development, learning, behaviour and health.

Establishing a strong foundation for the early years is a powerful key to Ontario’s social and economic future.

Full day learning is associated with improved reading, writing and math skills, a smoother transition in Grade 1 and increased high school graduation rates.

Ontario is well on its way – our students are doing better in reading, writing and math, and are graduating in higher numbers. But we have more to do when it comes to Early Learning.

In November 2007, the Premier asked Dr. Charles Pascal, the government’s Early Learning Advisor, to recommend the best way to implement full-day learning for four - and five year - olds.

Over the last 18 months, Dr. Pascal has worked very hard to develop thoughtful and workable advice. He listened and talked with thousands of people across the province, and ultimately returned a report which included 20 recommendations on how to improve education for children up to age 12.

Dr. Pascal’s ambitious report paints an exciting future for early learning in Ontario. We intend to reflect on it carefully so we can build on the remarkable progress we have made in improving Ontario’s education system since 2003.

It will take some time to implement full day learning for four- and five-year-olds in all schools across the province.

We have already committed to moving forward with $200 million in 2010/2011 and $300 million in 2011/2012. Over the course of the summer we will work with Dr. Pascal and others to determine the rest of the phase-in of this transformational initiative.

As Dr. Pascal noted in his report, quality needs to trump speed on the implementation of this program, but we will work as fast as we can within the confines of the current fiscal situation to reach our goal of full-day learning for all four- and five-year-olds.

It is important to make sure our progress is responsible and affordable.

Furthermore, we recognize that not all parents want their four-year-olds in this program for a full day. That is why we will ensure that, as we move forward, parents continue to have the choice about whether to enroll their four- and five-year-olds for the full day or half day.

One key aspect of implementation will be finding opportunities that support the government’s poverty reduction plan – ensuring that part of the early phase of implementation is focussed on low income neighbourhoods.

Ontario’s best future is one where all our children are healthy and secure, emotionally and socially competent, eager and successful learners and respectful of the diversity of their peers.

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