All-day kindergarten for children three to four years old and education for early childhood educators were on the table when former NDP leader Carole James stopped by Nelson last weekend to participate in a panel discussion around childcare.
In addition to James, family expert Dr. Barry Trute and local community service provider Judy Pollard contributed to the panel.
“I learned a lot especially from having three experts on childcare, supports for children and early childhood education,” said Nelson-Creston NDP MLA Michelle Mungall who moderated the event.
“Everybody in the room also felt like they learned a lot. Especially about what government policy is needed in the province and what can be done when federal government opts out or what can be done when the federal government opts in.”
More than two dozen interested residents braved the wet weather to participate in the discussion at SelfDesign High.
“People shared their personal stories and their concerns whether they had children or not, which was very enlightening. There were also grandparents there who provide the childcare for their children and can watch how difficult it is for their kids to access childcare,” said Mungall.
During the forum the group talked about the education required for childcare providers and how low wages affect childcare.
Mungall said Pollard shared how childcare providers earn a maximum of $15 per hour.
“That’s not starting, that’s max. As a result many people who are working in the sector are struggling just to get by,” said Mungall. “And yet they have an incredible responsibility to raise our children or to help us raise our children and work with us to make sure they have a solid education and a solid foundation.”
Childcare advocates are calling for the education required for providers be changed from a diploma to a degree.
“I know in looking at history, that really changed the game for professions like nurses,” said Mungall. “Both professions are dominated by women and not just a few — 97 per cent for early childhood educators. That’s less the case with nurses because men are going into the profession, much less so than early childhood education. That would definitely be a game changer for the sector.”
As a former member of government James was able to share her experience with the program childcare advocates are asking for.
“The advocates have an overall program of $1.5 billion and Carole was able to explain that won’t be able to be achieved overnight because $1.5 billion is more than any provincial government is able to put into any one particular program right off the bat,” said Mungall.
Kindergarten for children three to four years old was discussed and Mungall said the consensus was that it’s something everyone is “leery” about.
“You have to have more staff per child that what we see in most kindergarten classrooms. These type of programs need to rolled out with due care and not just a haphazard approach,” she said.