Q’s on Junior Kindergarten

MR. SIMPSON: Thank you, Mr. Chair. There has been lots of talk of junior kindergarten ever since the Minister was just a lowly regular Member in social programs. Some people in Hay River are philosophically opposed to junior kindergarten – they don’t think that children that age should be in school. Some people are supportive of the idea of early childhood education, feel that we already have the facilities needed in Hay River.

While Hay River might be equipped to educate our four-year-olds, I am aware that other communities aren’t. My first question to the Minister is: if this clause is struck out or if this bill does not pass, what happens to junior kindergarten henceforth? Does the department continue to pursue this initiative? Is it going to attempt to coerce schools to run junior kindergarten programs? Is it going to offer to fund junior kindergarten programs? What is going to happen to junior kindergarten if this bill is defeated or this clause is struck down? Thank you.

CHAIRPERSON (Mr. McNeely): Thank you, Mr. Simpson. Minister Moses.

HON. ALFRED MOSES: Thank you, Mr. Chair. First and foremost, this government has set out a mandate in the 18th Legislative Assembly to provide early childhood programs throughout the NWT. This will, however, significantly change how we roll out junior kindergarten to our communities. All education authorities are well into their implementation efforts into junior kindergarten and making it a reality in every school come this academic year, in 2017‑18. The 20 communities that currently run junior kindergartens have been doing it very well, and it has been received there very well and are highly successful.

I can’t make really definite comments to the Member’s questions, but it is mandated by this 18th Assembly that we do provide early childhood programming and early childhood development, and those discussions would have to take place, should that happen, and also discussions taken back to my Cabinet colleagues to find solution. But I just want to assure the Member that we are committed to providing early childhood programs throughout the Northwest Territories, and junior kindergarten is one of those areas that we can implement it. We do have 12 communities in the Northwest Territories that currently do not have any day cares or day homes, and it is something that we see as a positive, moving forward, providing those to families that do need the development programs for their children entering school. Thank you, Mr. Chair.

CHAIRPERSON (Mr. Blake): Thank you, Mr. Moses. Mr. Simpson.

MR. SIMPSON: Thank you, Mr. Chair. So, just to clarify, the department’s position is that, if Bill 16 is defeated, it will continue to fully fund, in its own words, junior kindergarten in the Northwest Territories; is that correct? Thank you, Mr. Chair.

CHAIRPERSON (Mr. Blake): Thank you, Mr. Simpson. Minister Moses.

HON. ALFRED MOSES: Thank you, Mr. Chair. As I mentioned, we are mandated to run early childhood programs, according to this bill and this specific program. Those discussions would have to be made afterwards, but, as I said, this government is mandated, it is a priority, of the 18th Legislative Assembly to provide early childhood programs throughout the Northwest Territories, and I do believe Members, with the passion that they have, understand the value of some of these programs going in our communities and appreciate the support from the general comments that were made around the room earlier. At the end of the day and much like it said in the report from committee, regardless of the outcome, both sides want to do what is in the best interests of the child, and I strongly believe that. Otherwise, it would not have been put into the committee report. Thank you, Mr. Chair.

CHAIRPERSON (Mr. Blake): Thank you, Minister Moses. Mr. Simpson.

MR. SIMPSON: Thank you, Mr. Chair. I just want people to understand the consequences if this bill or this clause is defeated. I want to know what the alternatives are. The Minister has stated that those discussions have to be had, so has the department not at are prepared itself for the possibility that this bill could be defeated, or has it talked about what might happen if the bill is defeated? Because teachers have been hired; some renovations, I am not sure if they are underway yet, but I am sure plans have been made.

So what would happen, is my question, if this bill is defeated? Is the department going to continue to try to push this onto school boards? Does it have the power to force it onto school boards? I just want a clear answer. Thank you, Mr. Chair.

CHAIRPERSON (Mr. Blake): Okay, Mr. Simpson. That is more hypothetical, but we will let the Minister answer if he would like to. Thank you. Minister Moses.

HON. ALFRED MOSES: Yes, all I can say to that question ‑‑ and you said it perfectly, Mr. Chair, that is a hypothetical question ‑‑ we do not know what the outcome of this bill is going to be at the end of today, but I can let the Member and the Members know that, as a government, we are committed to providing early childhood programs. We developed an Early Childhood Development Action Plan in collaboration with the Department of Health and Social Services. We are working with schools, education bodies, to address those. We have made increases to our early childhood program funding, and we are working with day cares and looking at setting up day cares in the communities, as well, so we have done a lot of work. We are going to continue to look at early childhood programs as a priority during the term of this 18th Legislative Assembly. Thank you.

CHAIRPERSON (Mr. Blake): Thank you, Minister Moses. Mr. Simpson.

MR. SIMPSON: Thank you, Mr. Chair. So, what I asked is ‑ not hypothetically – I guess I was asking what were the department’s plans. Has the department planned and has it come up with a plan, but I am not going to get an answer to that, so I will drop that. We won’t know unless this bill is defeated, and we will have to see what rolls out, hypothetically.

So, my other question is the Minister has promised to fund this initiative at 12:1, a pupil‑teacher ratio of 12:1, and I think, if you look in the schedule of the Child Day Care Act regulations, if a day care has four‑year‑olds in it, it needs to be staffed at 9:1. I know that is zero to four, but, if a day care only has four‑year‑olds in it, it is still 9:1, I believe, and I could be wrong. So why is a classroom with four‑year‑olds only to be staffed at 12:1? Why is there a lower threshold than a day care or day home? Thank you, Mr. Chair.

CHAIRPERSON (Mr. Blake): Thank you, Mr. Simpson. Minister Moses.

HON. ALFRED MOSES: Thank you, Mr. Chair. As previously stated when this question has come up in previous committee meetings and public hearings, at the 12:1 ratio and the four‑year‑old in the school, in the school building they will have access to other resources in the school, school support teams, counsellors, EAs, principals, so they will have more resources in the school system. Thank you.

CHAIRPERSON (Mr. Blake): Thank you, Minister Moses. Mr. Simpson.

MR. SIMPSON: Thank you, Mr. Chair. I have talked to the people in the schools, and they do not buy that answer. They do not think that is an acceptable answer, and that is why I brought it up, because I was looking for an answer that I could bring back to my constituents that they could at least respect.