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Early Childhood Education

Early childhood education is compulsory for all children aged 5 – 6, except for children in Quebec and Ontario where they start school at the age of 4. Each territory and province has its own policies when it comes to number of hours, funding, and programs.

Different programs are available in Canada, including religious-affiliated, community-based, Reggio Emilia, and Montessori. Other programs for preschool children are Waldorf, academic, and play-based. The main focus of play-based programs is pre-academic skills, together with interaction. The goal is to develop early math, object recognition, and verbal skills. Montessori programs focus on learning, confidence, and independence and involve group and learning tasks. Teachers use a variety of learning materials such as sandpaper letters, alphabet cutouts, building blocks, books, and others. The main focus of academic programs is learning, including colors and shapes, literacy, basic math, vocabulary, numbers, and letters. Regardless of the program of choice, kids enjoy a variety of activities such as sports, dance, music, and art. Skills and subjects that children master include social skills, creative arts, science, literacy, and math. The main pedagogical approaches include experiential, theme-based, curriculum-based, and play-based. When choosing a school and program, parents take multiple factors into account, among which hours, class size, and safety. Other factors include teacher-to-student ratio, discipline, teaching approach, location, and special needs and specialized learning.

In most territories and provinces, except for Quebec where childcare is heavily subsidiesed by the government, parents pay school fees. Financial assistance and subsidies are available to families in the low income bracket. Public funding is also offered in some provinces such as under the Early Years Program in British Columbia. Services are offered to parents as to help facilitate access to Indigenous language and culture and support vulnerable families as well as those that experience social isolation. Together with the territorial and provincial authorities, the federal government adopted a framework that outlines key principles. These are inclusivity, flexibility, affordability, accessibility, and quality of education. Under the framework, the territorial, provincial, and federal governments provide funding for early childhood education.

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Early childhood educators must have accreditations to work in educational institutions. These include accreditations by the Canadian Child Care Federation, Education of Young Children’s National Association, and Canadian Association of Young Children. Career paths for educators include camp counselors, childcare consultants, home childcare providers, and education assistants. Professionals also work in transition homes for abused children and women. Other career paths include childcare centre director, toddler and childcare teacher, and infant and preschool teacher.

A number of Canadian institutions of higher education offer programs and courses, among which the University of Calgary, University of Alberta, and University of British Columbia. The Faculty of Education at the University of British Columbia offers undergraduate diploma and certificate programs as well as graduate programs. Two certificate programs are available, the Certificate in Early Years Education and Certificate in Infant Development and Supported Child Development. Students who opt for the latter take courses such as Supporting Learning in the Kindergarten Year, Kindergarten Curriculum, and History of Early Childhood Education. The University of Alberta also offers a certificate program to professionals that are seeking specialization. This four-credit program features elective and core courses with a focus on contemporary issues, theory and practice, and play as a learning strategy and teaching. The University of Calgary offers several options to choose from, including an after-degree on-campus pathway, five-year concurrent pathway, and four-year on-campus pathway. Students choose from a selection of courses such as Academic Writing in Education, Supporting Children’s Learning, How Children Learn to Read, and Integrating Arts Education.

The average salary of educators in Canada stands at around $37,000 and varies from $27,950 to $47,750. The average pay in British Columbia is around $35,970 compared to $40,970 in Ontario.

Remote School Learning across Canada

Millions of students are not attending schools during the coronavirus pandemic and began online learning. In some places, they have access to pre-recorded and live lessons to continue their education to the extent possible.

School boards and provincial authorities across Canada have developed a variety of resources so that students benefit from home learning. Teachers are instructed to email or call parents and inquire about their capacity for remote school learning. The Waterloo Region District School Board, for example, connected with parents and students and developed a plan to enable educators to support students. In Ontario, students have access to pre-recorded and live lessons, and the Ministry recommended that high school students spend 3 hours per course weekly while elementary grade students spend up to 10 hours in total. Some parents voiced concerns about learning outcomes, especially when it comes to students with special needs. For them, it may be nearly impossible to study independently because they need additional support.

Teachers support children online, respond to questions, and post assignments but some parents find it difficult to use the capabilities of Google Classroom. Developed as a free service to support schools, the platform enables students to join virtual classrooms, access information, share files, and attach photos to assignments. Teachers grade and return assignments and monitor progress. There is an option to choose from different grading schemes such as weighted by category grading and total points grading. The classroom also enables teachers to communicate in different ways such as emailing to students and posting assignments. Students can also share content or a webpage or communicate with classmates on the Stream page by posting replies, comments, and posts. While the platform offers multiple functionalities, parents share that they are still learning how to navigate it. Others say that online learning puts added stress on children, which the president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation confirmed. Some parents also admitted that online learning is a waste of time for both parents and children. Parents are not trained teachers and find it hard to inspire children to focus on school assignments while having to pay bills, budget, and juggle between work and other responsibilities. To support parents, some teachers create assignments that focus on students’ interests such as a report about alien abductions that children were asked to write. Another example is an assignment to create a pandemic-themed board game set in their own area.

The decision on whether schools will reopen this year is yet to be made. Universities, at the same time, announced plans to offer online courses in fall, among which are the University of Ottawa, University of British Columbia, and McGill University. Students at the McGill University will have access to remote platforms while the University of British Columbia will offer a small number of classes onsite and large classes will be held remotely.