Welcome to the world of University of Saskatchewan discovery, creativity, and innovation. Explore covers the latest research results, societal impacts, and outstanding people who are part of the Uof S's $130-million-a-year research enterprise.
Contents - Winter 2008
Vol. 1 No. 1
Turning Research into Results: Early Childhood Study Benefits Saskatoon Children
By Wendy Gillis
When the University of Saskatchewan’s Nazeem Muhajarine began his research, he expected his study of childhood development in Saskatoon to shed light on concerns in early childhood learning.
But what he didn’t expect was how well the knowledge he gathered would directly translate into real solutions for Saskatoon children.
The Understanding the Early Years (UEY) study is a national initiative examining the role of families and communities in the early learning development of children. Saskatoon’s seven-year study began in 2000, a partnership between Muhajarine’s U of S research group at SPHERU (Saskatchewan Population Health and Evaluation Research Unit) and Saskatoon’s planning council for a child- and youth-friendly community, Communities for Children (C4C).
In 2001, 2003 and 2005, using a standard assessment tool, local school boards measured the learning abilities—ranging from social and communication skills to cognitive development—of kindergarten children.
The results were compared to those in cities all across Canada and to those across Saskatoon neighbourhoods. Relationships were explored between children’s outcomes and neighbourhood characteristics such as education, income and employment levels, and access to child care and other programs and services.
Some findings were troubling: Saskatoon children were lagging behind the national norm in three of five areas: physical health and well-being, language and cognitive development, and communication skills and general knowledge.
“We found that Saskatoon children were not doing as well as we would expect them to, compared to other children nationally,” says Muhajarine.
The findings provided inspiration for school boards and community groups to improve learning opportunities for young Saskatoon children.
Brendan Bitz, superintendent of education for the Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools, says the study results were an integral part of their board’s recent decision to direct more funding and attention to the first few years of education.
“It supplied us with some important data—it confirmed our decision-making and our commitment to put more resources into early learning,” he says.
The study’s findings were also key in the Saskatoon Public Schools’ launch of a major new initiative in 2004. Literacy for Life is an intensive new approach to teaching children how to read.
Reading is important in early childhood development. Both Saskatoon school boards have increased early literacy programming as a result of the UEY study.
“We took special note of the evidence from the study, and especially the fact that cognitive and linguistic skills were not coming up to national norms,” says Jim Jutras, education director for the Saskatoon Public Schools.
Jutras says the study also played a key role in increasing the number of schools offering full-day, five-days-a-week kindergarten programs.
The study was a factor in the provincial government’s decision to increase its funding to provide additional speech and language pathologists, as well as for building the Saskatoon Public Library’s new branch in the city’s west end.
“These special programs were put in place after they recognized that this was a need in Saskatoon, particularly in the elementary schools, and that the need was shown through the research we’ve done,” says Muhajarine.
He suspects the success of the local project is in part due to the strong university-community bond that developed from the U of S and Communities for Children working together.
Sue Delanoy, C4C executive director, says that due to Muhajarine’s ongoing guidance and research support, C4C “is well positioned at the front line of social policy reform.”
The Saskatoon study has gained national profile and has set the standards for other participating cities. The Saskatoon team has recently launched a provincial network that connects them with five other active study sites in the province.
Muhajarine was honoured with the 2006 Local/Regional Knowledge Translation Award from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research for his research leadership on the project.
“The legacy of this project is the realization that knowledge transfer is vital to make changes in the community that help children,” he says.