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Despite great strides, Canada should invest more in early childhood education, says report

Despite great strides, Canada should invest more in early childhood education, says report

The Early Childhood Education Report 2017, released in March by the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, says that Canada must invest more in early childhood education. Canadian economists calculate the cost-to-benefit ratio at between $2 and $7 returned for every $1 spent on early education.

In an IZA World of Labor article on the Role of preschool in reducing inequality Jane Waldfogel writes, “Universal preschool programs implemented in many countries in the 1970s and 1980s led to improvements in academic achievement and other positive outcomes, particularly for children in disadvantaged families…Good-quality preschool programs more than pay for themselves by boosting achievement and reducing inequality of achievement.”

The new report shows that Canada has made great strides since a 2004 study by the OECD where Canada came last in a review of early education across 20 member states. Canadian children were least likely to attend an early childhood education program, and those offered were under-resourced and mediocre.

The Early Childhood Education Report 2017 finds that more than half of Canadian youngsters now attend an early education program before starting school. Governments are paying more attention to what happens inside programs, with an emphasis on children’s safety and caregiver training, and schools are stepping up to offer more programs for pre-schoolers.

However, while jurisdictions added to their ECE budgets—spending $11.7 billion in 2017—as percentage of overall spending, allocations for young children have flat-lined since the last assessment in 2014.

Quebec devoted 4.4% of their 2017 budget to early education whereas Nunavut, with the largest proportion of children under five, spent only 0.9%. The report set 3% of budget as the minimum target for ECE.

To bring Canada in line with its OECD counterparts, the report suggests that all territories and provinces ensure all children have at least two years of full-day preschool and expand programming for younger children as resources permit.

“The economic and psychological literature has demonstrated that early investments (private and public) in children can significantly increase cognitive outcomes in the short and long term and contribute to success later in life,” writes Daniela Del Boca in her article Childcare choices and child development.

For childcare and labor policy related queries, get in touch with Jane Waldfogel.