Ontario is introducing what it claims is the most rigorous early-childhood education programme of its kind.
The first major overhaul of the kindergarten programme in 50 years is due to start in September, and is a conscious attempt to prepare children for the academic challenges ahead, according to Jerry McIntyre, manager of Ontario's elementary curriculum unit.
The ministry of education says the programme is designed to familiarise children with concepts such as counting, phonics and oral communication skills.
Children will also have a chance to become familiar with technologies being used in schools, such as cassette recorders and computers. The reform does away with the "haphazard" kindergarten programmes that evolved as each school board went its own way.
The province aims to "ensure that all children across Ontario receive the same kindergarten education," says education officer Joanne Van Alstyne.
Support for spelling out the "learning expectations" in language, mathematics, science and technology, personal and social development, and the arts comes from school boards, parents' groups and academics.
Elizabeth Samples, of the Ontario School Boards Association, is "encouraged to see the ministry take a proactive view on what is one of the most critical periods of a child's education".
Carl Corter, who heads Ontario's Institute of Child Study, thinks the ministry has successfully "hooked up the kindergarten enterprise and its goals" to the academic activities that follow without sacrificing the child to the "skill and drill academic regimen".
The province's five teacher unions are also broadly supportive of the new programme, the last curriculum to be written by aministry committee with staffseconded to it.
Marshall Jarvis, president of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association, says that the publication of the kindergarten programme is something of an about-face for the Conservative government that had at one time planned on abolishing junior (four-year-old) kindergarten.
Mr Jarvis has reservations over funding and the government's future plans for testing. Premier Mike Harris has said he would like to test students in every grade.
"If you turn to massive testing, you're going to wind up with a very negative perception in the minds of some of these students as to what learning and education are all about," Mr Jarvis says.
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