Despite reports of overcrowding in many Montreal schools, the Quebec government is going ahead with its promise to offer preschool to four-year-olds across the province.
Quebec Education Minister Jean-François Roberge tabled Bill 5 Thursday, noting it will not be obligatory for all parents to send their four-year-olds to preschool.
The option to send four-year-olds to preschool is expected to expand in the 2020-2021 school year. The government’s long-term goal is to make four-year-old preschool accessible to all parents within the next five years.
“I said it during the campaign and I’ll say it again: if we are in politics for one reason, it’s for education and to help children who have difficulties learning,” said Premier François Legault.
However, opposition parties have been quick to criticize the plan, saying schools lack the space and the province lacks teachers.
“Yesterday, the minister of education had a conference call with all the school boards and the directors and they all said, ‘we don’t have enough place, we don’t have enough teachers,'” said Marwah Rizqy, the Quebec Liberal’s official opposition critic for education and higher education.
“He [Roberge] has one goal again and it’s to save the premier’s seat.”
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On Tuesday, Quebec’s subsidized daycares (CPE) released statistics from a Léger Marketing survey that found most parents prefer to send their four-year-olds to CPEs.
About 49 per cent of parents said they preferred CPEs while 19 per cent said they preferred to enroll their children in preschool.
Others chose: family daycare (11 per cent), private daycare (eight per cent) and staying at home with a family member or subsidized private daycare (seven per cent respectively).
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In terms of quality of care, 51 per cent of parents surveyed said they believe CPEs are best-suited to their children — compared to six per cent of parents said they thought preschool was better.
For children with special needs, 50 per cent of parents said they felt CPEs had the best services (54 per cent, when it came to screening); 14 per cent said they felt preschool was the better option (15 per cent for screening capabilities).
“The government has to to look at these results,” said Geneviève Bélisle, director general of the Association québécoise des centres de la petite enfance (AQCPE).
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She pointed out that the biggest obstacle for the CPEs is the number of places available for children, arguing the reason the AQCPE requested the Léger Marketing survey was because it felt parents hadn’t been consulted.
“Like the premier, we feel the urgent need to make sure all our children succeed,” Bélisle said.
“But we can’t confuse the objective and the means. The CPEs have proven their worth. The parents recognize this and they want to send their children to the daycares.”
About 1,002 respondents from Quebec with children aged zero to five answered questions between Dec. 18, 2018 and Jan. 2, 2019.
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One proponent of four year old pre-school is Laval University associate professor in the faculty of education, Égide Royer. He says it is the best way to provide early intervention.
“Despite of the services offered in daycare centres right now, there is still a third of boys and one girl out of five who is demonstrating some kind of problem,” said Royer.
He said Quebec’s school success rates are lower than other provinces where four year old pre-school already exists.