EAST CENTRAL — After seeing the results of a screening questionnaire aimed at detecting developmental delays in pre-Kindergarten children, the Horizon School Division has released a report calling for more robust pre-Kindergarten programs.
There were 586 children across the division that took the Ages and Stages questionnaire between Jan. 23 and April 17. Of those children, 263, around 45 per cent, had some level of development delay, meaning they did not meet what’s considered the benchmark standard for their age. For most children, they would be able to meet that standard given more time or support. For the 174 children tested eligible for Pre-K in 2019, 80, around 46 per cent, had some level of development delay,
“I was surprised with how high the percentage was,” said Katherine Oviatt, the division’s supervisor of early learning services, at the division’s board of education meeting on Oct. 17.
“We do have a lot of kids out there in need,” said Linda Mattock, the trustee for the Humboldt area. “Thanks for putting in on paper. We always knew it. To have the data to back it up now is critical.”
The division undertook the questionnaire after a meeting held by the education ministry examined why the province was not making progress on its goal to have 90 per cent of children ready to go into Kindergarten. In Horizon, the number is usually in the high 50s, reaching 59 per cent in the 2018-19 school year, while provincially, the number has kept steady at around 65 per cent.
As a result of the meeting, the ministry decided to examine the most successful pre-Kindergarten programs. However, those programs where located in the big cities of Regina, Saskatoon and Prince Albert, so Oviatt approached the ministry to ask if Horizon could examine the issue. The ministry agreed.
Currently, the province has targeted pre-Kindergarten programs that are aimed at the children and areas that they’ve determined will benefit most for it. In Horizon, there are seven provincially funded Pre-Kindergarten programs in five communities: Humboldt, Wadena, Wakaw, Wynyard and Punnichy. There’s also a federally funded program at the George Gordon First Nation.
Each program runs for four half days and has a certified teacher and an educational assistant. To run the division's current programs costs around $465,000.
A universal pre-Kindergarten program for the division would cost around $1.5 million.
The report also gives a series of proposals that would be between $465,000 and $1.5 million. They include providing two half days of pre-Kindergarten for all students and four half days for those that need extra help, as well as using educational assistants and trained early childhood educators more extensively. The report warns that enacting those proposals might require legislative change at the provincial level.
“The board has received the report and so we will get the report provided to – and we have a meeting coming up with – one of the assistant deputy ministers,” said Kevin Garinger, Horizon’s director of education. “[We’ll] sit down, go through the report, talk about the potential for next steps around better and more supports for early learners across Horizon School Division.”
Garinger said he’s hopeful the report will begin conversations about early childhood education in the division and across the province.
The director of education said the division also plans to continue to do the Ages and Stages questionnaire to help detect those children that could use some extra help.
“It has been a really important program and really important project and it will be something that will continue to do to try and ensure that supports are in place for our children.”