While Canada boasts one of the world’s most enviable education systems, there’s a group that’s worryingly excluded from a beneficial learning environment: children under the age of five.
According to a recent report by the Conference Board of Canada, we are considerably behind other developed nations when it comes to early childhood education (ECE) enrollment.
“Canada does a good job of ensuring that all 5-year old children have access to ECE through kindergarten programs, but enrollment for children under 5 years of age falls substantially below the OECD average,” reads the report.
Only 58.4 per cent of Canadian children aged 2-4 years old are enrolled in early childhood education. Children of that age group in countries like France and Belgium, meanwhile, are enrolled at a 90% rate (the OECD average is around 70 per cent).
There are plenty of reasons to invest in ECE programs, and for parents to enroll their children. The report suggests that an additional 76,500 women would enter the workforce if Canada would match its ECE enrollment with the OECD average. Families with working mothers would have greater disposable income, which in turn would boost the nation’s GDP. This also leads to higher tax revenues for provincial and federal governments.
Having children enrolled in ECE programs would also be a great benefit to single-parent families since guardians would then be able to work. “About 23,000 families—many of them single-parent families—would be lifted out of poverty after the introduction of an expanded ECE program,” reads the report.
The economic benefit
The economic figures aren’t trivial, either. The Conference Board of Canada estimates the economy would gain $6 for every $1 spent on early childhood education programs. It’s the classic notion of ‘you gotta spend money to make money’ – with the added bonus of social welfare.
“Ensuring all Canadian children aged 4–5 have access to full day kindergarten would cost an estimated $2 billion in annual operating costs and $1.8 billion in one time construction costs,” reads the report. “However, the economic benefit derived from this investment would exceed the cost.”
The big question is whether or not our federal and provincial governments possess the long-term vision to expand ECE programs and make them more affordable.