Meetings with the Government of New Brunswick

Fredericton, New Brunswick -- September 26, 2019

The Honourable Margaret Norrie McCain was in Fredericton, September 26, 27 for a series of discussions with Government officials on the role of early childhood education and its potential for improved productivity, literacy and economic growth in New Brunswick. Mrs. McCain also lead celebrations at the University of New Brunswick launching a new on-line degree in early childhood education and co-hosted a breakfast meeting for business leaders with the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce.  

Read remarks and access presentations below:


Thank you all very much being here today. It is always a pleasure to be in New Brunswick. This is where Wallace and I raised our family and where our business began.

Giving back to the region that gave us so much, we established the Margaret and Wallace McCain Family Foundation Inc. Our mission is early childhood education for all.

The Foundation collaborates with early childhood stakeholders and governments – of all political stripes - throughout the country, but primarily in Atlantic Canada.

Our work is guided by evidence from multiple disciplines that show quality early education promotes the skills essential for democratic societies.

Much of what I will touch on today will be discussed in Early Years Study 4, which gathers the latest scientific, economic and social rationales for public investment in early childhood education. Here are some of the highlights.

Slide 1: There are windows in human development when we are most biologically attuned. In utero and early infancy is when our limbic and sensory systems are laid down – sight, hearing, touch. But it is the second 1000 days of development when our thinking skills, language and social and emotional competencies are established. How well they are established is dependent on two interrelated forces: the genes we inherit from our parents and the early environments we’re raised in.

Slide 2: Research indicates the biggest influencer is the environment. Babies are pretty similar at birth but by age three stark differences emerge. A child from a home with university educated parents will have a vocabulary twice as large as a child from a home where the family is on social assistance. This is an important indication since literacy is the basis for all learning. Poverty puts children at risk for developmental delays but any child’s development can be compromised by family violence, addiction, mental illness or tragedy. Canada’s child poverty rate is 14%, but 25% of children start kindergarten with vulnerabilities acute enough to impact their future academic success; a warning that this is a challenge that crosses social and economic groups.

Slide 3:
Quality early education can enhance benefits for children from good homes and mitigate the negative impacts for children in homes under stress. Children who attend a quality program are less likely to fail a grade and more likely to graduate. They will spend less time in special education classes and according to international PISA results, enjoy a full year advantage in reading by age 15.

Slide 4: A major UK study, that included thousands of children, tracked their numeracy and math competencies. During their preschool years children’s facilities with numbers improved, declined or remained steady. But between the ages 5 and 6 children’s math scores were set, showing little movement during elementary school.

Slide 5:
The benefits of ECE stretch into adulthood with higher incidents of post secondary training and more stable employment. The long-term health effects are shown in one of the oldest and most heavily studied early childhood interventions. Begun in 1972, the Abecedarian Project assigned one group of disadvantaged children to a quality early education program and another to a control group. The control group received counselling and money for food and diapers. The intervention group received full day/ year round early education starting in infancy. The groups have been tracked for over 40 years.

In addition to academic benefits, the early education group was less likely to engage in risky behaviour in their teens. They were less likely to smoke, abuse alcohol or drugs and were less likely to become young parents. By their mid-30s the non-ECE group was showing risk factors for cardiovascular disease. This was especially true for males. One-in-four men in the control group showed signs of early heart disease, whereas none in the ECE group was affected. For policy makers wondering how we are going to preserve our health care system, ECE holds important answers.

This is the power of early education. Now what should we do about it.

We have adopted the terminology of the Early Childhood Education. It replaces outdated notions of daycare as “a place kids go while mom works”, to viewing ECE as the first tier of education, as important -- if not more so -- than those that follow.

There are three pillars of early education that I would like to share with you. These are the holy trinity that guide policy and practice.

The first is access for all children and the need to separate children’s participation in early education from their parents’ work.

The second is enriching the practice of educators.

The third is the collection and analyses of meaningful data.

Changes to eligibility for childcare subsidies in New Brunswick have allowed more children to participate, but childcare has yet to open its doors to all children. Fee subsidies are still restricted to parents who meet income and work requirements.

But low wage work is almost always precarious. When a parent loses their job, the fee subsidy disappears and with it their child’s place in a centre. The child loses access to their friends, their teachers and their learning opportunities.

The most vulnerable children, those who would benefit most from early learning, toggle back and forth between childcare arrangements, in tandem with their parents’ jobs.

A parent may not be in paid work for various reasons. This should not be grounds for denying their children an early education.

Early education’s double dividend - to parents and children - lead us to recommend a core day of free preschool starting with all 4-year-olds and expanding to include younger children. This should be part of creating an integrated system of service delivery from birth to age 8 in both governance and a play-based experiential curriculum.

Universal approaches are more successful at reaching all children, particularly the most vulnerable.

Secondly, but not in terms of importance, is staff. Early childhood educators are critical to children’s learning experiences. A quality workforce needs the following tools:

  • Fair compensation to attract and retain the best. New Brunswick is facing a workforce crisis with more than 1 in 3 staff leaving the sector every year and without new recruits to take their place.
  • A quality workforce needs leadership, knowledgeable of how children learn and able to support their staff. We are very pleased to be part of the on-line degree in early childhood education that will help build an ECE leadership in Atlantic Canada. It will be launched later today at the University of New Brunswick.
  • Central to a qualified workforce is post-secondary training and continuous learning that is recognized and rewarded. We note that you tried to do this by targeting the wage grant increases to educators with more advanced qualifications. Sectors sometimes act against their own best interests, or the interests of those they serve.

    This is why policy makers must be assured of the evidence behind their decisions.
  • Finally educator practice needs to be guided by professional standards, representative bodies and assessment tools to support continuous quality improvement.

The third member of the trinity is a data collection and analysis.

This may not seem critical but consider the amount of data that is collected on children at birth and as part of their school, health and social service records.

The capacity to link this information allows us to track the well being of the child population. Without it policy makers are operating in the dark, unable to assess whether the programs offered are having their intended effect.

We are pleased to support discussions in Atlantic Canada around the creation of a data repository. As part of a regional effort with the other three provinces, New Brunswick will be assessing the school readiness of kindergarten students in 2020 using the Early Development Instrument.

Ted MacDonald and his team at UNB are leaders in this type of data collection and analysis, so New Brunswick is well positioned to proceed.

For me the payoffs of early childhood education are priceless, but economists have done the math, finding big returns for every public dollar spent.

We have the evidence. Now we need action.

Cabinet MeetingL to R: Minister, Health, Hugh Flemming; Minister, Education and Early Childhood Development, Dominic Cardy; Minister, Aboriginal Affairs, Jake Stewart; Partner and Chief Economist, Deloitte Canada, Craig Alexander; Chair, Margaret and Wallace McCain Family Foundation Inc., Margaret Norrie McCain; Premier, Blain Higgs; President of JSM Capital Corporation, and CEO of the Saint John's Sea Dogs, Scott McCain; Vice Premier and Minister, Tourism, Heritage and Culture, Robert Gauvin; Minister, Women’s Equality and Service New Brunswick, Sherry Wilson; Minister, Environment and Local Government, Jeff Carr



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