Early Childcare Centres in the Northwest Territories are taking the initiative towards improving the delivery of education for children up to six years old after conducting a two-day long online conference that ran Sept. 28-29.
During the conference, organized in conjunction between the Children’s First Society of Inuvik, as well as Yellowknife Day Care Association and Garderie Plein Soleil, participants discussed the challenges facing Early Childhood Education (ECE) as well as potential solutions.
“Everyone participated and we had small breakout rooms for specific topics,” said Children First Society executive director Patricia Davison. “We talked a lot about Universal Child Care and accessibility, early childhood staff training and support for people working in the field.”
Major issues holding ECE back largely come down to a lack of funding, explained Davison. Low funding means ECE centres can’t offer competitive wages to keep good staff, leading to problems in maintaining programs. As it stands, 60 per cent of the cost of delivering ECE is salary. Providing support for staff as they work with high energy children is also essential.
Other issues include accessibility, either in spaces, cost or means of reaching a facility, if there is one available. A second area the working group is hoping to move forward in is establishing a Professional Association for ECE. Davison said the NWT was one of the few jurisdictions where one did not exist yet.
Another roadblock to better ECE in the territory is that it is currently not considered an essential service, even though both Children’s First and the Inuvik Youth Centre remained open throughout the summer while many other organizations were not.
“Research tells us that for every dollar spent on early childhood, you gain seven to 13 dollars in health, justice and education later in life,” she said. “So the question is why we are not looking at how we can support early childhood. The first five years of life are the most important years when it comes to development. That’s when our brain is layering and those synapses are open and ready to be used.
An enriched environment can be anywhere. But children need to be in an enriched environment with support so that brain development can be maximized and they can achieve their greatness.”
Children First Society co-chair Mike Harlow said he was optimistic, however, noting that ECE was listed as a mandate item for the current NWT government and both Education Minister RJ Simpson and his deputy Rita Mueller spoke during the conference, which was attended by over 40 caregivers, parents and administrators among other professions.
“The response to covid has highlighted the importance of these services in a big way to the entire country,” he said. “A functioning society needs a robust ECE deliver structure. Otherwise parents can’t go to work and children aren’t getting stimulated at those critical ages.”
Both Davison and Harlow said a comprehensive list of recommendations coming out of the conference is currently under review and will be released in the coming months.