Dr. Paul Hasselback, Medical Health Officer for Central Vancouver Island, recently presented the region’s Local Health Profiles. The document contains data for each of the region’s municipalities, concerning issues ranging from birth rates to water quality. While Lake Cowichan fared well in several categories, the report revealed a concerning drop in the quality of early childhood education.
Lake Cowichan’s Early Development Index (EDI) was significantly higher than the averages for both the Cowichan Valley and British Columbia as a whole. Research shows that approximately 49 per cent of children in the Lake Cowichan School District are inadequately prepared when entering the education system, as opposed to the province’s 33 per cent average. The numbers look even more shocking when factoring in Lake Cowichan’s low numbers during the 2004 – 2007 Local Health Profile, when the town’s EDI was only 17 per cent, nearly half of the provincial average at the time.
While Nanaimo and Ladysmith also saw a rise in EDI, the numbers only changed by five and six per cent, respectively.
“We’ve seen that children who are better prepared [when entering the education system] do better on provincial exams, and that carries on until they’ve completed school,” Hasselback said. “Those who are not may be at a higher risk of demonstrating behaviour issues or a variety of other outcomes.”
Hasselback also noted that the Lake Cowichan geographical area includes not only the town of Lake Cowichan, but area that stretches all the way to the west coast of the Island. Only half of the population of the Lake Cowichan area live within the town that shares its name. A smaller number of children starting school could also mean a more rapid fluctuation of the EDI. Regardless, the EDI is still moving drastically in the wrong direction.
Hasselback said he and town council had a “good discussion” when he presented the data last Tuesday (Feb. 24), in which he explained how developing more early childhood education or childcare facilities could benefit the town.
“There has been lots of discussion on a provincial level as well on how to improve EDI scores and facilitating children to be better prepared for starting school,” Hasselback said. “Early childhood educators, or daycare operators as some would call them, are very good at recognizing how to provide opportunities for children to collectively learn, socialize and participate in physical fitness activities. There’s concern that children are not getting enough play, that they’re spending too much time in front of screens.”
While Lake Cowichan may be lacking in resources for parents of young children, a few residents, including Lake Cowichan Teachers’ Association president Chris Rolls, are working towards the establishment of a local pre-school. When the Gazette spoke to Rolls last month, she said the group was currently in the research stages for the project.
Aside from the alarming rate in which EDI scores are rising in Lake Cowichan, the Local Health Profile also contained some good news, such as the rising rate of students graduating in Lake Cowichan and across the Cowichan Valley. However, a high EDI may be telling of future graduation rates.
“As much as anything, it means there are indicators that are in need of attention,” Hasselback said. “It’s certainly an opportunity to look more carefully at the Lake Cowichan area.”