Education minister talks pre-primary, inclusion, libraries on South Shore stop

by Brittany Wentzell

  • <p>CONTRIBUTED PHOTO</p><p>Zach Churchill, Minister of Education for Nova Scotia.</p>

It's been an arguably trying year for both education professionals and the provincial government, but the minister of education believes the government is on the right path.

Zach Churchill, minister of education, was in Bridgewater recently, meeting with the South Shore Regional School Board (SSRSB) before stopping at LighthouseNOW for an interview.

"I think we're on the path to achieve some transformative changes to the system that people have been looking for," he said. "The labour dispute did hold us back in many respects from tackling some of these issues a little more quickly, but important conversations were had during that time that led to the Council to Improve Classroom Conditions."

The province is also taking a look at issues surrounding inclusion and attendance, including a pilot project involving the hiring of 14 attendance support workers which will cost $1.9 million over two years.

Some other changes this year included the creation of a new pre-primary program which has been expanded to 50 sites. The province had originally only planned on 30 for this first phase of the roll out, but Churchill says the demand was so high that they increased that number.

That program hasn't come without criticism, however. The Nova Scotia Teachers Union (NSTU) recently published a position paper on it, taking issue with both the consultation process involved and with some of the ways it's operating.

"Teachers and administrators are generally frustrated with the launch of this initiative, and are questioning if it meets the goals of the public school program," said NSTU president Liette Doucet in a press release. "When students lose access to a valuable learning hub, like their school library, to make room for a pre-primary class it impacts the overall learning environment."

The press release also referred to the roll out of the program as rushed.

However, Churchill says the province had good feedback on the four-year pilot project run of the pre-primary program.

"The feedback was extremely positive from parents, kids, the ECEs and principals that were overseeing its delivery. It's based on research and evidence and we think provides an inclusive, play-based environment for our kids that will have an impact on them as they transition into the academic learning environment," he said.

Churchill says the childcare sector only has the capacity to care for around 25 per cent of preschool aged children and that it's not available in all communities so the government is working to identify where programs are needed.

Some private pre-primary operators have spoke out against the program, but so far, Churchill says there have only been three that have indicated an enrollment or staffing issue. He says his government is willing to work with and invest in some private operators to make sure everyone has access to early childhood education, but that a public system is necessary.

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