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Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Early Childhood Education and Care Reform in Canadian Provinces: Understanding the Role of Experts and Evidence in Policy Change

L. A. White and S. Prentice

Summary: there are robust policy reasons for implementing full-day kindergarten, but it should designed as one element in a broader early years strategy.

Three facts to know:

1. Currently, BC, Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and PEI fund and deliver full-day kindergarten (FDK) through public schools, and other jurisdictions are considering or are in the process of adopting the policy. FDK is presented as a way to support children’s early years in a context of the changing family.

2. Widespread enthusiasm for FDK as the sole policy instrument to meet the needs of the early years is counter-intuitive both because FDK is more expensive to deliver than tax breaks or subsidizing parents’ child care expenses, and because there is also good evidence supporting other early childhood development programs, including childcare services.
3. Public administration scholars fiercely debate whether or how much evidence and expert opinion really matters in how governments make decisions: looking at the wave of FDK adoption in Canada provides empirical evidence about how both were used.

Three myths or misconceptions to dispel:

1. FDK was usually adopted as a consequence of an expert commission/panel that recommended changes, citing child development arguments that were presented as evidence-based, yet would be considered narrow by academic standards. A broad consideration that holistically addressed early childhood care and education seemed beyond the reach of most expert actors.

2. Governments rarely fully implement the programs recommended even by their own experts. Political remedies appeared restricted to possibilities easily incorporated into provincial education mandates.

3. In the case of FDK, policy change was driven by highly selective path dependency that used evidence to justify predetermined policy preferences. FDK seems to be the contemporary provincial government “hammer” for every “nail” of family policy (child development, socio-economic disadvantage, parental labor market participation, and economic competitiveness).

White, L. A. and S. Prentice (2016). “Early Childhood Education and Care Reform in Canadian Provinces: Understanding the Role of Experts and Evidence in Policy Change.” Canadian Public Administration 59: 26 - 44.


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