More children are entering kindergarten across the province without the basic foundation expected in five areas: language and cognitive development, communication skills and general knowledge, social competence, emotional maturity, and physical health and well-being, according to a study released by the Human Early Learning Partnership (HELP).
According to HELP's research, roughly 28.1 per cent of kindergarten age children in the Sea to Sky School District are considered vulnerable, which means they are behind in one or more areas and could struggle to catch up. That's slightly below the provincial average of 30.3 per cent, and down from the last regional survey of 29.8 per cent, but still almost double the province's goal of reducing the number of vulnerable students to 15 per cent by 2015.
The latest research was compiled in 2009 and 2010, asking kindergarten teachers in every school district to answer a questionnaire with more than 100 questions. This is the fourth time that the study has taken place since HELP began the surveys in 2001, allowing HELP and school boards to compare data in different districts.
The Sea to Sky (formerly Howe Sound school district) statistics are broken into four areas, Squamish South, Squamish North, Whistler and Pemberton, and over four Waves - the years where surveys were completed.
Pemberton had the lowest vulnerability rate of the four areas and the biggest drop between Wave 3 and Wave 4 - a current vulnerability rating of 17.2 per cent, down 25.4 per cent since 2008.
Whistler has consistently been the best overall, although the number of vulnerable students increased for each of the first three waves, from a low of under 10 per cent in 2001-2004 to a high of approximately 23 per cent in 2008. The Wave 4 number is under 20 per cent.
Squamish numbers were mixed. Squamish North numbers increased from 18.9 per cent in Wave 3 to 25.7 per cent in Wave 4, while the number of vulnerable students has increased each year for Squamish South, from just under 30 per cent in Wave 1 to 45.1 per cent in Wave 4.
The number of indergarten age students was also significantly lower for Pemberton and Whistler, with a high of 58 for Pemberton in Wave 4 and a high of 60 for Whistler in Wave 3. In comparison, Squamish South had a high of 98 students in Wave 1 and Squamish North a high of 113 students in Wave 4.
Generally speaking, students in the district were below the 15 per cent range individually in all of the five foundation skills. Students generally ranked highest in Language and Cognitive Skills, were slightly more at risk in Communication and Physical attributes, and were most at risk in the areas of Social Competence and Emotional Maturity.
The report did not suggest there was a specific cause for the numbers, but assumes that a number of factors, ranging from a lack of preschool programs and services and socio-economic conditions, are part of the problem. Results also vary significantly from place to place, which suggests that it will take a community approach.
Province-wide, less than 10 per cent of communities were below the 15 per cent threshold set by the province - and none of those communities were in Sea to Sky.
The report makes several recommendations to lower vulnerable numbers.
Some of the recommendations include strengthening early childhood development (ECD) coalitions and agencies; building on ECD programs and services through pregnancy, parenting, early learning resources, screening and intervention; and building on early childhood education and care to provide universal access.
Other suggestions include working with the federal government to increase parental leave to 18 months, while improving coverage and benefit levels and reserve time for fathers, and building on income support programs to reduce child and family poverty.