Lifelong Learning

Early education

The government is currently making a mess of the early childcare and education sector. In beefing up regulations in the licensed childcare area, the government is making it impossible for child care centre operators to provide affordable care. The problem is over-regulation, with rules and regulations for the smallest things, many of which do not impact the health or safety of the children (but are “nice to have”).

As an example, providers of licensed care must provide a hot lunch, through the centre. Parents are not allowed to supply their own child’s meal. So childcare centre operators in premises without full kitchen facilities must either retrofit to supply stoves, ovens, etc., and hire chefs, or contract with an outside provider to bring in a prepared lunch. Either way, the parents have to pay the costs. Many childcare centres have operated happily for years with parents supplying their own child’s lunch and the staff at the centre serving it (including heating food in microwaves as necessary). It saves parents money and still ensures that children are being fed properly. However, this is no longer allowed in licensed centres.

Another regulation concerns the size of windows necessary in a childcare room. If they are not exactly the size specified, the centre cannot be licensed. This immediately put hundreds of Montessori schools operating happily in church basements out of business. While I agree that large windows are optimal, smaller windows will often do the job, particularly if the children are taken outside regularly (as they should be).

Another regulation that makes no sense is how childcare centres catering to school-age children are being treated. Because of full-day kindergarten, 4 and 5-year-old children are now considered to be “school age” when in school. However, as soon as they leave the school to attend their after-school program, they are suddenly subject to the “Child Care and Early Years Act” which usually applies to childcare for much younger children. Staff-to-child ratios suddenly require more adults per child than are necessary in a public school classroom, and more of the arcane regulations (as above) apply. This makes no sense at all and is wreaking havoc with not only after-school care, but also summer camp programs, which have operated for many years with few issues. Providers such as the City of Toronto and the Metro Toronto Zoo, which have offered popular summer programs for many years, with the enthusiastic participation of many generations of children, now have to get their programs certified by the Ministry as “Childcare Centres” or be unable to operate. Some are deciding that the hassle (and it is a HUGE hassle) is not worth it. Add to that the problem that there are insufficient Ministry inspectors to handle the influx of newly licensed “Childcare Centres” and you compound the problem.

Much about our current system of education could be solved if the teachers were trained in the Montessori method (and use of the method was expected in the classroom). The way that full-day kindergarten has evolved, we have now reached the point where mixed classes of 4 and 5-year-olds are the norm, with 2 adults in a classroom. This is similar to the set-up of a traditional Montessori class (which would also have 3-year-olds). If teachers were trained to do so, they would be in a position to allow children to choose their own work and spend each day improving their skills. Teachers would learn how to “follow the child” as each child learns and achieves self-actualization. There continues to be the same problem that existed years ago—schools are currently built (and run) primarily for the convenience of adults, not children. Many excellent teachers exist, but the system does not encourage them. Children enter the system excited to learn, wanting to know everything they can, but by Grade 3 or 4 have already had that desire stifled. By middle school, learning is not a joy but a chore, and the education system values only the learning that has been imparted by the teacher.

This is not how we prepare the next generation for challenges most of us cannot even imagine. They must be ready to question, to self-teach, to push the boundaries, in order to discover solutions to those challenges. Our education system does this poorly. Fixing it could start with having a little confidence in the child, as Maria Montessori did more than a century ago. Much educational research that is being done today is coming to the same conclusions about how children learn as Montessori did. Her system has been tried and tested over many years and proved itself as superior to what we call “traditional” methods. Why can’t we adopt it?

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Idea No. 419