Daycare is child’s play

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For Ted Melhuish, authenticity is tantamount to, well, the genuine plate of Caribbean cuisine he was evidently relishing at a restaurant in downtown Fredericton.

It was early April 2013, and the tempests of a hard Canadian winter had abated just long enough to allow the sun to shine and the mercury to rise above 25 degrees.

He smiled like a kid in a candy store as he stuffed a bit of Jamaican jerk into his mouth. “Oh yeah,” he says. “It’s good. . .It’s very good. . .very original.”

Dr. Edward Melhuish is all about originality, reality, genuineness and authenticity. In a way, one might say, these qualities of mind have been his stocks in trade for more than 30 years. As his University of London (U.K.) biography stipulates, he “is Professor of Human Development at Birkbeck, University of London, and Visiting Professorial Fellow at the Institute of Education, University of London.”

He is also an “internationally recognized expert in the study of child development and childcare (who) has extensive experience with longitudinal studies. He was a Principal Investigator of studies of day care and family life in the 1980s, which had considerable influence on sections of the 1989 Children Act (U.K). He has also conducted research on child development, parenting and childcare in several European countries, on behalf of the European Commission.”

What’s more, “For several years Professor Melhuish has been a Principal Investigator on the Effective Provision of Pre-school Education (EPPE) in England and Effective Provision in Northern Ireland (EPPNI), which are following 4,000 children.”

Finally, “Professor Melhuish has acted as a consultant for the design of children’s organizations (e.g. UNESCO), government departments and film, television and radio companies. In addition he has frequently contributed to the media on children’s issues, including newspaper, radio and television programmes.”

In this context – that of a visiting scholar, educated in all matters related to early childhood education (ECE) – it’s worth noting just how far apart academia and actual practice has become in this province. After all, how many Professor Melhuishes has New Brunswick produced over the past three decades?

Instead, we face a risible crisis in ECE produced by broad ignorance about its benefits, suspicion fanned by federal and provincial governments, which seem to think that wedge-issue politics trumps the welfare of our children, and a calculable lack of expertise in the field.

In fact, a recent investigation by reporters of this newspaper group has found evidence of downright despicable conditions in New Brunswick’s regulated daycare operations: “In one year of visiting (these facilities) inspectors found guns, mouse droppings, lighters left out within children’s reach, and fighting on the playground with no one around to intervene.”

Worse, the report stipulates, you, dear reader, will not “find any details about these problems on the government’s online daycare inspection registry. Until now, violations in publicly licensed daycares have been kept largely secret from the public.”

Whether this secrecy was generated by fiat or general bureaucratic neglect hardly matters.

Nothing in our society should concern us more than the early childhood education of our offspring. After all, our kids will someday rule the planet, and how they govern in the future depends entirely on how we help them think and work and play today.

We have it, within our power, to create builders or destroyers, peacemakers or warmongers, physicians or psychopaths.

It is, as Professor Melhuish says, entirely up to us.

Shall we order in educational take-out tonight?

Or shall we make a good meal from a delicious pairing of ingredients in our own authentic land?

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