More Nanaimo children unprepared to learn

Research shows that 34 per cent of Nanaimo children enter kindergarten vulnerable on at least one scale of development.

The number of children entering Nanaimo schools unprepared to learn continues to rise.

Research compiled by the Human Early Learning Partnership, a project co-ordinated at the University of B.C. with academic, government, school and community partners, shows that 34 per cent of Nanaimo children enter kindergarten vulnerable on at least one scale of development.

That’s up from 31.6 per cent in the fall of 2010 and 27 per cent in 2009.

“Unfortunately, vulnerability in Nanaimo is increasing,” said Elizabeth Pennell, early years coordinator. “When you consider the context of what’s happening globally, regionally and provincially, it isn’t such a big surprise. People are struggling to get work.”

Kindergarten teachers measure student vulnerability in five core areas of early child development that are good predictors of adult health, education and social outcomes: physical health and well-being, social competence, emotional maturity, language and cognitive development and communication skills.

The assessment, called the early development index, includes questions such as whether a child is able to hold a pencil, tell a story, concentrate or share with others.

The highest level of vulnerability was on the physical health and well-being scale, with 17 per cent of children coming to school behind their peers in this category. The smallest proportion of children vulnerable was on the communication skills scale at 12 per cent.

The results are also broken up into neighbourhoods in Nanaimo, with vulnerability ranging from 19 per cent in the Pleasant Valley-Rutherford area and 49 per cent in the Newcastle-Townsite neighbourhood.

The province set a goal of reducing the provincial vulnerability rate to 15 per cent by 2015, but no neighbourhoods met this target in Nanaimo. Provincially, 30.9 per cent of children are vulnerable on one or more development scales.

While the district has upped its roster of programs for preschool-aged children in recent years, Pennell said what the district and the Greater Nanaimo Early Years Partnership are able to provide is a “drop in the bucket” compared to what is needed to support all families.

The partnership is studying barriers to accessing these early years programs and hopes to get more businesses and organizations involved through sponsorships and partnerships.

For example, Pennell said there is always a wait list for the Parent-Child Mother Goose program, which is funded through a provincial grant.

If the partnership can find businesses and groups to provide monetary and/or in-kind donations, more of these programs could be offered across the city, she said.

“Parenting is hard, no matter who you are, so everyone can benefit,” said Pennell.

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