canary in the White Rock coal mine?

The stats presented last week by Clyde Hertzman show that children living in White Rock (proper) entering kindergarten are not nearly as healthy and school-ready as they were a few years ago. The change is so dramatic that it is among the biggest declines in the province. At the workshop following, I could hear surprise at each of the many tables reviewing maps for the whole school district that White Rock children were doing so poorly — an anomaly on the peninsula.

On the Human Early Learning Partnership (HELP) website there is a pdf that shows how children’s development has changed over the past few years for the worse.

I’m not as familiar with this one, but the BC Atlas looks like it offers suggestions on how to improve a community’s environment for children.

This pdf shows the difference between the two “cycles” – data collected in (I think) 2002 and 2005. The colour coding indicates province-wide standing.

I’m hoping to get some time to review this stuff closer. When I do, I’ll share what I find.

Having now collected a second ‘cycle’ of data, they are able to gauge change by comparing stats collected a few years ago to numbers from last year. The differences are interesting enough in themselves, but Dr. Hertzman explained that the first set of children have now completed their grade 4 standard test, so their development can be tracked.

Unfortunately, it has proven what academics have long theorized –- that a child’s readiness for kindergarten is an indicator of how successful they will be through their school career. This appears to be a bullet-proof argument for early childhood education.

Dr. Hertzman compared Canada to other developed countries. A chart of GDP:debt shows that we have gone from a critical point a decade ago to having by far the lowest ratio.

He described this as an “addiction” to debt reduction. Clearly, making sacrifices to further pay down the national debt is no longer necessary. It may be politically satisfying, but neglects investments that would make the country stronger.

This is likely not helped by the social sector’s tendency to “cry wolf” non-stop. For example, advocates for the health care system are constantly protesting that they need more money, but evidence shows that more money won’t make a significant difference. Canada, when compared to other countries, gets good value for a high standard of health care.

However, Canada is an absentee parent when it comes to early childhood education. Our level of investment in our children is embarrassing. And now that there is irrefutable evidence that their start in life is a powerful determinant of their health and success in later years, the current government’s failure to establish national childcare standards seems incredibly myopic. It underscores a fear that the Conservatives do not understand that early childhood education is not babysitting, and that their priorities for investing in our future are based on obsolete assumptions.

In contrast, Dr. Hertzman described Finland. It has some of the highest quality of life indicators and their economy is robust. Years ago, with the Soviet collapse, they were suffering 20% unemployment. Yet, their commitment to health care and early childhood education wasn’t slashed. And it paid off.

While Canada may brag of a lower national debt, Finland has higher literacy rates and other enviable strengths that bolster their economy now, and hold good promise for long-term continued success. On the other hand, Canada’s strategy for the future seems to be clinging to a delusional hope that having an exceptionally low national debt will offset an embarrassingly high illiteracy rate and mediocre workforce.

Dr. Hertzman’s HELP is world-renowned, pioneering research that is generating strong conclusions that are sobering and motivating, for White Rock and Canada.

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