Q: Junior Kindergarten Confusion, Parts 2 & 3

dance-bksMR. SIMPSON: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Back to junior kindergarten. There’s still a lot of confusion about this program, and I’d just like to try and clear it up for my constituents. I’d like the Minister of Education to just let us know what’s the difference between junior kindergarten programming and, say, the programming at daycare and the difference between junior kindergarten and kindergarten. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: Masi. Minister of Education, Culture and Employment.

HON. ALFRED MOSES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. The difference is junior kindergarten will be a free play-based program that’s offered to all communities across the Northwest Territories. Currently, there are 11 communities that don’t have any licensed daycare programming, and we want to fix that. Daycares and day homes, they do their own programming; we also work with them to provide some programs, but junior kindergarten will be one that’s offered throughout the whole Northwest Territories. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SIMPSON: So is the level of education going to be higher in junior kindergarten than a child could expect in a daycare, in a playschool, something like that? That’s really what I’m getting at.

HON. ALFRED MOSES: The NWT JK curriculum for four- and five-year-old children is play-based and supports children’s cognitive, social, emotional, creative, and physical development, as well as cultural. As I mentioned, the EDI results that we’ve been seeing with the programs that already run in the Northwest Territories, we’re seeing a big improvement in the communities that are offering junior kindergarten that are entering into the kindergarten system.

MR. SIMPSON: I realize that there are some communities who have no daycare, no playschool programs, so I’ll confine this to Hay River. Can I tell my constituents that, if we’re going to put daycare, playschool operators out of business, that it’s for the benefit of our children because they’re going to be getting a higher education in junior kindergarten?

HON. ALFRED MOSES: Mr. Speaker, junior kindergarten’s going to be optional to families, and secondly I also mentioned that we enhanced our early childhood programming to daycares and day homes. We see that there’s a lot of waiting lists across the Northwest Territories for daycares and day homes that offer programming for zero to five, and the infants we’ve increased the funding. So I think that those messages need to be put out there for daycares and day homes and that it is optional for families.

MR. SPEAKER: Masi. Oral questions. Member for Hay River North.

MR. SIMPSON: The Hay River Playschool takes three- and four-year-olds. It’s probably going to shut down after decades. That’s an option. That’s a real option that could happen. So I just want to make this as simple as possible: are kids coming out of JK going to be smarter than if they were in a playschool or a daycare program? Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

HON. ALFRED MOSES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Any early childhood programming that’s offered to our children, we have in partnership with the Department of Health and Social Services. We’ve developed right from the start a strategy, an action plan. Any early childhood programming is going to benefit the children, going to benefit the families, and is going to benefit the communities for the children. Any children that go through an early childhood program are going to see results, whether it’s through junior kindergarten, through a day home, or a day program. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SIMPSON: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Back to junior kindergarten again. I understand, and the Minister can correct me if I’m wrong, but in daycares and day homes, there needs to be a ratio of 8:1 when it comes to children to adults, supervisors. Yet, the four-year-olds who are being put into junior kindergarten, that ratio is going to be 12:1. What is the rationale for significantly reducing that ratio when it’s essentially the same children that we’re dealing with? Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: Minister of Education, Culture and Employment.

HON. ALFRED MOSES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. As I mentioned earlier in one of the other questions, that JK will be delivered in the school setting. It’s both practical as well as fiscally responsible. It also utilizes already maintained, inspected, and publicly funded available school space. Students that enter the junior kindergarten system will also have access to more support from the JK to 12 system that daycares don’t have right now, and that was the rationale behind it.

MR. SIMPSON: The fact is, in the classroom or in the room that these children are in, there’s going to be less supervision. Will the qualifications for a JK teacher be any different than our other elementary school teachers because we are dealing with an age with different challenges than any other age in the school system?

HON. ALFRED MOSES: With the consultation that we’ve had with residents of the Northwest Territories as well as our school boards, we have made those changes to ensure that early childhood educators can be part of instructors within the JK system and doesn’t necessarily have to have a degree. It’s the flexibility of the school boards to determine whether the JK instructors can be an early childhood educator or have to have that degree in education.

MR. SIMPSON: I thank the Minister for clearing that up. About the capital upgrades, I brought this up before; I was looking for a dollar amount or a percentage amount. The Minister mentioned there’s money for the upgrades needed to turn kindergarten or elementary classrooms into JK classrooms. What dollar amount is associated with the monies that EC has pledged to support school boards with? Is it going to cover all of the capital upgrade costs, and if not, what percentage does it cover and what percentage will the school boards have to cover?

HON. ALFRED MOSES: Currently we run junior kindergarten in 20 of our 33 communities. We did go out and do that inventory stock. We did the discussions with all the schools to look at what was needed. A lot of our schools have the utilization available; space, classroom space, that’s available. Hay River is one that we do have low utilization rates in some of the schools. There are some infrastructure costs that are associated with implementing junior kindergarten. The number that we’ve looked at allocating is over $3 million, and that’s for infrastructure needs as well as looking at resource materials that are needed for schools to implement junior kindergarten.
As I mentioned, out of the 33 communities there are 13 right now that we need to work with; work with our education authorities to look at the resources that are needed, plus any renovations that are needed, and that amount, the figure that I mentioned, was just over $3 million.

MR. SPEAKER: Oral questions. Member for Hay River North.

MR. SIMPSON: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I’ll be following up with the Minister to get some specific numbers for Hay River. Another issue is that in Hay River the buses are full; there’s not room for another 30 kids. So is that factored into the funding for JK or is that something the school board is going to have to deal with either by cancelling busing or buying a school bus or some other means? Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

HON. ALFRED MOSES: Just following up into answering another similar question earlier, that the Department is working with the education authorities to address things such as busing, such as school safety and making sure that the implementation of junior kindergarten in all our communities is a smooth transition. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.