Full-day kindergarten could soon be offered at schools across Nunavut.
This fall, the Department of Education will begin testing an all-day kindergarten program in five schools in the territory. If the pilot project is successful, the program will gradually be made available to other schools.
“There’s so much that has been reported to be beneficial in running a full-day kindergarten,” said Department of Education Deputy Minister Rebecca Hainnu, a mother of two and a former teacher, vice-principal and principal at Clyde River’s Quluaq School. “It will support the development of early language acquisitions in Inuktitut, in Inuinnaqtun, or in English or French.
“We’ll be able to monitor and ensure that students are acquiring the same skillsets that other students in other jurisdictions are getting.”
The full-day kindergarten pilot project will be implemented at Nanook School in Apex, Victor Sammurtok School in Chesterfield Inlet, Qaqqalik School in Kimmirut, Jimmy Hikok Ilihakvik in Kugluktuk, and Inuglak School in Whale Cove.
The purpose of the project, according to a Department of Education press release, is “confirming departmental resources needed to support a full-day kindergarten program, testing of the program, learning how the program stands up to real-life scenarios, making improvements to the program prior to full roll-out, and ensuring buy-in from relevant stakeholders.”
Some parents have concerns about the feasibility of a territory-wide full-day kindergarten program.
Emma Baasch is the Vice President of the Iqaluit Parents and Tots Association, and the mother of a child who will start the territory’s standard half-day kindergarten program next year. She admits she is “very skeptical” about the government’s ability to manage a full-day program.
“I think everyone’s fear is it will be introduced and there won’t be enough teachers for it to be everywhere, and it will be in some places but not everywhere,” she said. “There’s already a significant shortage of teachers, as well as people who specialize in early childhood education in the territory.
“While I think the program will work and it will probably be good for kids and parents, I’m not overly optimistic that it will be staffed effectively – at least for a while.”
Hainnu has heard parents’ concerns, and notes first and foremost that “the department does not have legal authority to require or mandate full-day kindergarten,” meaning some communities may decline to use the program.
Among interested communities, the department is planning to implement a phased roll-out that will distribute the program “equally to the three regions” of Nunavut.
“We need to plan it out,” Hainnu said. “We need to make sure we have kindergarten teachers in the communities, that they can go through the training with us.”
“We’re looking at the construction costs and where we can do it the fastest in the best, most resource efficient way.”
With “so many factors” in play, Hainnu says it is too early to provide a firm date for the implementation of Nunavut-wide, full-day kindergarten. However, she is “very optimistic” it will happen in the near future.
Baasch, while skeptical, is hoping it can be pulled off.