Closing the gap through education

BRICE BELYEA COMMENTARY – Telegraph-Journal, September 2, 2014

The Province traditionally funds education equally from one region to the next, no matter if one area has different needs from another. Ironically, this approach creates severe inequality with educational outcomes.

Saint John’s education achievement gap can be directly linked to our city’s history of multi-generational poverty.

Children who come from poor neighbourhoods are consistently less prepared to start school and, as they carry on through the educational system, their learning issues can grow to such a magnitude that as many as half do not graduate from high school on time.

The Business Community Anti-Poverty Initiative (BCAPI) understands that the education achievement gap is very real.

Studies demonstrate that investing in children while they are young will have a greater effect than an investment at any other time in their 
lives.

A child’s youngest years are the most formative and have the greatest influence over their life’s success, learning, health, economic participation, and the degree to which they will be involved in the community.

The importance of early childhood development began to be recognized several years ago in Saint John. A coalition was formed by a group of non-profit representatives and key people from the Departments of Health, Education, and Social Development.

This group saw an opportunity to close our education achievement gap, and the St. John the Baptist-King Edward School in the south end was identified as the perfect place to start. The program would come to be known as the Early Learning Centre.

The school district was absolutely instrumental in welcoming us and providing us with the space and a ton of support.

Then the YMCA stepped in to operate the Early Learning Centre because they have the perfect background, with excellent experience in child care and child development.

Photo: Cindy Wilson/Telegraph-Journal archive

Students watch as a teacher illustrates a point at the blackboard. As voting day nears, BCAPI is arguing that provincial politicians need to rethink education orthodoxy
 

New Brunswick’s “one-size-fits-all” approach to education is being turned on its head with the Early Learning Centre because our program was specifically designed to meet the needs of the south end community.

The Province traditionally funds education equally from one region to the next, no matter if one area has different needs from another. Ironically, this approach creates severe inequality with educational outcomes. We need the support of citizens and government to sustain and expand the Early Learning Centre initiative into Saint John’s other priority neighbourhoods.

Before starting the Early Learning Centre there was a very small percentage of children in the south end of Saint John that were assessed as ready for kindergarten when they arrived. They just were not prepared with the appropriate level of skills, and so they were already behind in their education. Two or three years after the Early Learning Centre began a very large percentage of kids are now ready for kindergarten. These children are on a level playing field with the rest of the community and succeeding in their early education.

Our current “one-size-fits-all” approach to education has failed us over the last 30 or 40 years. In turn we have failed several generations of children in our priority neighbourhoods who haven’t received what they need to be successful in life.

In cooperation with the business community and the other players we can do a lot to sustain the Early Learning Centre, but we need to have a partner in government who’s willing to contribute funds to this crucial component of New Brunswick’s education system.

Education is not self-sustaining. Without government involvement there wouldn’t be an education system in this province at all and we need them to change their current approach to funding.

We are asking government to please support a different approach to education; an approach that recognizes the important needs presented by our poorest students and merits customized programming.

In 10 years’ time, through the continued expansion of early childhood development in Saint John, we can close the education achievement gap and have a high school graduation rate that is close to 100 per cent in every neighbourhood.

Then we would know that kids coming out of school have the skills they need to lead a successful life and break the cycle of poverty.

We’ve got a lot of work to do. And so do our elected officials. During this election urge candidates in your riding to make this issue a priority and help our children succeed.

Brice Belyea is a member of BCAPI’s Leadership Group.