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Early childhood education students in the north offered free, accelerated, schooling


Four northern Ontario districts are in the midst of a new partnership with Northern College that gave dozens of people access to an accelerated early childhood education program for free.

Some district social services administration boards in the region have paid the tuition, books and fees for around 40 students.

Timiskaming’s DSSAB recently announced that it’s funding six students, specifically those who are currently working in child care but are not yet certified early childhood educators (ECEs).

“It’s a compressed program,” said the organization’s manager of children’s services, Lyne Labelle.

“They will receive their two-year diploma in 16 months and the child care centres will benefit from having qualified staff.”

That adds up to around $10,000 of education costs per student being covered by the Timiskaming DSSAB.

Labelle said it is also topping up the students’ wages as they balance work and school. That means they’re being paid for class time, up to 40 hours per week.

The Cochrane district’s DSSAB is also participating. Children’s services manager Shannon Costello said it is helping working students achieve their ECE certifications.

“Educators that are currently working in the field, that are not qualified, work and get their qualifications at the same time,” Costello said.

This is all possible due to federal and provincial funding announced last year, under the Child and Early Years Workforce Funding program.

It’s aimed at recruiting and retaining ECEs. The problem is many left the profession during the COVID-19 pandemic and not enough ECE students are enrolling in post-secondary programs.

Cochrane DSSAB received around $850,000, which it is using partly to fund students’ education, as well as to develop programs for retaining existing staff.

The field has been seeing soaring demand for child care, with Ontario now cutting costs in half — after joining the national $10-a-day child care initiative — and with further demand expected once costs reach that goal.

Labelle said a recent local survey showed that parents are looking to return to the workforce as costs decline, which will only mean further demand for child care.

Costello said Timmins alone has a waitlist of more than 300 children for daycare and around 100 for after-school care.


With the province aiming to create 86,000 new child-care spaces, she said there’s pressure to make sure they’re staffed, adding that current spaces are already understaffed.

“We currently need 113 registered ECEs to open our spaces at full capacity, without any expansion,” Costello said.

The Nipissing and Kenora districts are also participating in the accelerated ECE certification partnership, in an effort to up-skill existing staff.

Post-secondary schools across the region also offer free pre-ECE online programs to get people started in the field.

The province also offers an Ontario ECE Grants program to help aspiring educators with tuition.

Labelle said though the funding is limited — the last round of workforce capacity funds is being issued in March — Timiskaming DSSAB is already considering supporting another cohort of students.

“As long as the funding is available, I think we’re going to follow this path,” Labelle said. Top Stories

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