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Executive Summary (PDF 35 KB)
Full Report (PDF 358 KB)
School readiness is usually understood as a child’s ability to take advantage of the educational opportunities offered by the school environment. It is a holistic concept including several developmental areas: physical health and well-being, social competence, emotional maturity, language and cognitive development, and communication skills and general knowledge. The Early Development Instrument (EDI) is a Canadian checklist tool measuring children’s school readiness in all these five areas. Teachers complete the checklist for each child in their classroom when children are in the second half of their kindergarten year. The EDI also includes information on children’s characteristics like gender, their first language, or special education needs.
Since 2000, standardized data on children’s readiness to learn at school have been collected for over half a million children in many communities in Canada with the EDI.
This project had been designed in response to community-level requests for empirical data on special and small populations. The current document reports school-readiness patterns among 5-year-old Canadian children belonging to two types of important, yet low-frequency populations: children with special needs and children from diverse language backgrounds—those for whom the language of instruction is not their first language.
In this report, we examined patterns of school readiness in those small groups in comparison with children who do not have special needs, and those who have English or French as their first and only language. As well as providing results to communities, we expect that our findings will inform policy decisions at many levels and provide the direction for early interventions.
Children with special needs represented 3.8% of the population in the Normative II database. Boys outnumbered girls. As a rule, children with special needs had consistently low EDI scores in all domains, and the differences between them and the controls were of large magnitude. The domain of Communication Skills and General Knowledge showed the largest magnitude of difference. There were also, however, disparities among groups in relation to the type of needs: for example, students with visual and hearing impairments, while functioning below their control group peers, did not fare as poorly as those children having other types of problems.
Some groups of bilingual children had better outcomes than the language-control group. The extent of this finding varied in terms of the developmental areas and the magnitude of difference. The most common pattern was that bilingual children did better than the controls in the physical development, social and sometimes emotional development, did as well in language, and tended to do slightly worse in the communication areas.
The findings, on the whole, confirmed the expectations formed on smaller samples. With the large-scale population data, we were able to show that the two groups of interest, even though they are often considered as a whole, have a considerable diversity that can only be untangled with such data as provided by the EDI. The striking differences in school readiness within language groups in relation to the children’s fluency in the language of instruction are a very clear indication that more effort has to be directed toward language support for families with young children.
Placed within the appropriate context, these results can guide practical intervention and prevention strategies at school and before, as well as provide broad-based background for more detailed, in-depth investigations of specific populations.
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