IV. Benchmarks focusing on quality in the early learning environment

Well-established research confirms that quality in early education programs depends on staff trained in child development who are resourced and valued for the work they do. This part of the ECE Report looks at progress in this area. Is there an evidence-based curriculum to support the work of educators? Is it aligned with the school system to support children’s transition into school? Are educators in all ECE settings trained in early childhood development? Are salaries and recognition reflective of the important work they do? Six benchmarks refer to this category.

Benchmark 11: An early childhood curriculum/framework

ECE curriculum frameworks are organic documents resulting from broad consultation. They are holistic and child-centred, with clear goals across a range of developmental areas to which educators and children can aspire. The primary role of parents is recognized and parents are welcomed as partners in their children's learning. A curriculum review populated in Figure 5.14 determined if provinces have developed a curriculum framework for early education settings. The benchmark does not require the use of the curriculum in all ECE settings.

Benchmark 12: Alignment of early childhood framework with kindergarten 

Children move from preschool into kindergarten at different ages and stages of development. The kindergarten and early childhood curriculum frameworks should align to reflect this. A curriculum review populated in Figure 5.14 determined if ECE policy addresses this issue.

Benchmark 13: Programs for 2–4-year-olds require at least two-thirds of staff to have ECE qualifications

Child: staff ratios across jurisdictions are quite similar, but the number of qualified staff required by policy or regulation varies widely. For this benchmark, “qualified” represents the period of post-secondary training provincial regulation considers necessary to be recognized as a qualified staff member in an ECE setting. It is acknowledged that ECE qualifications are not standard across jurisdictions. UNICEF recommends at least 50 percent of staff have three or more years of post-secondary training and 80 percent of staff working directly with children have post-secondary training in child development. No Canadian jurisdiction meets this standard. Two-thirds of staff with provincially-recognized qualifications was considered a reasonable compromise (see Figure 5.12).

Benchmark 14: Kindergarten educators require ECE qualifications 

Public kindergarten is a dominant form of ECE access. For many children it will be their only preschool experience. Quality in ECE settings depends on educators trained to understand the developmental needs of young children. A review of provincial policies determined if ECE training is required for educators in kindergarten classrooms. PEI requires its kindergarten educators to obtain a teaching certificate with an ECE specialty. Ontario was recognized because its legislated staffing model for full-day kindergarten requires at least one staff member who is a registered ECE. 

Benchmark 15: Salaries of early childhood educators are at least two-thirds of teacher salaries

Low compensation levels for early childhood educators are recognized in the literature as contributing to recruitment and retention challenges, which in turn impact the quality of ECE programming. The compensation gap between elementary school teachers and early childhood educators reflects the challenge. These issues become more evident as ECEs move into school settings to work alongside teachers. This benchmark looks at the salary gap between teachers and ECEs by province as an indicator of the relative value placed on the professions. Teacher salaries were obtained for 2008–09 from Brockington’s Summary Public School Indicators for Canada. ECE salaries were obtained from government documents. Where information was not available, a custom run of the Labour Survey provided 2009–10 hourly wages of self-identified ECEs with post-secondary qualifications who are employed in the sector. This was used to estimate full-time annual salary. The two-thirds benchmark reflects a salary gap between the two professions based on differences in educational requirements (see Figure 5.11).

Benchmark 16: ECE professional certification and/or professional development 

Registration, certification and classification are all processes that provide official recognition as an early childhood educator and enable the registrant to work in an ECE program. These processes are proxies for the value placed on the profession. Ongoing professional development is critical to maintaining a workforce that is knowledgeable about current education practice and is closely associated with high-quality early childhood settings. The benchmark reflects provincial policy requiring professional certification as a condition of practice and/or regular professional development as a condition of maintaining good standing in the ECE profession (see Figure 5.13).

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