As universal Pre-K becomes a real possibility in the United States, it’s important to look at other places that have these systems in place to find out what we can learn from them. In today’s episode, you’ll hear from two people who have firsthand experience with the pre-K system in Quebec.



From Montreal, Quebec, Canada, Joell Eryasa is a CLASS® Coordinator at CASIOPE since 2018. She joined CASIOPE in 2016 working as a consultant in professional development for teachers and for directors in early childhood education setting in Quebec. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and a master’s degree in Education from the University of Quebec in Montreal (UQAM). She specialized in quality measurement in early childhood education settings. She has worked to support the development of the quality rating and improvement system implemented in the province of Quebec in the past years.

From Montreal, Quebec, Canada, Stéphanie Millette-Brisebois is a CLASS® Certified Trainer at CASIOPE since 2019. She joined CASIOPE in 2016 and is working as a consultant in professional development for teachers and for directors in early childhood education setting in Quebec. She holds a master’s degree in Psychoeducation from the University of Quebec in Outaouais (UQO). She believes that access to professional development, planning time to reflect daily, and being intentional in every aspect of teachers’ practice is fundamental to ensure high-quality educational environments for children.

Listen to the conversation between Joelle, Stéphanie, Marnetta, and Darlene to learn about how Quebec’s childcare system came to be, the financial aspects of universal pre-K systems, and strategies for improving and ensuring quality at scale. Or, read the transcript below if you prefer reading the entire conversation. The transcript is also available in French.

Marnetta: Hello and welcome back to Impacting the Classroom, where we talk with educators, policymakers, and researchers about the big things happening in the education system. Hi. I’m Marnetta Larrimer.

Darlene: And I’m Dr. Darlene Estes-Del Re. I’m excited to jump in and get the conversation started today. In our last episode, we talked about funding that may come available through the Build Back Better campaign. If you missed that conversation I strongly encourage you to go back and give it a listen, because not only will you hear details about the Build Back Better campaign, but you’ll hear maybe about potential timeline.

Here’s the part you don’t want to miss. You will hear some great recommendations and suggestions on how to use the funding for the greatest impact from the guest who joined us that day. So mark your calendar. If you didn’t hear it, take time to listen.

A big part of that conversation around Build Back Better was about the proposal for a universal pre-K program that would allow families to opt into publicly-funded preschool for all—three- and four-year-old children. If passed, states would need to come up with their own plans on how to support and roll out the program.

As they’re thinking about that, some of them have no idea where to start or some may be farther along in the thought process, but they’re really eager to hear from others who have done the work or in the work and have some things to share about what’s worked well and maybe about some challenges, or just some considerations.

With that, I’m so excited to be joined today by two guests from CASIOPE, an organization that ensures quality for Quebec’s universal child care system. Welcome, Joell and Stephanie.

For our first question, I think it would be helpful for our American listeners who may not be as familiar with Quebec’s childcare system, to tell us what that looks like, and how did that come about?

Joell: It’s kind of a huge question you’re asking us because as in many countries around the world, childcare started in the 70s and we’re very local initiative. Quebec was really in that same way. As we can see, initiatives were very local in the United States at the same period, but it all got together more officially through policies and really an organized system in 1997.

What happened back then is that the government wanted, especially to make women get into the workforce and had to think of different strategies to make that possible. One of those ways was to have a provincial daycare system. That followed through with maternity leave and different financial advantages for working mothers to make that possible.

Stéphanie: It was all-around social, political, and economic. It was really a big system that was organized around this topic.

Darlene: Maybe you can talk to us a little bit about how you got started. You had the policy, you had the need, and you definitely had a lot of interest. Did you go big at first? Did you go small? What was part of your story in that sense?

Joell: Basically, the way it happened was that it was really local initiatives in every town. There were maybe one or two daycares that were being organized by the parents. Really, it was the parents that put it all together and that decided to change the facilities that were at first for profit. I’m talking back in the 70s and 80s. I was a child of those daycares, by the way.

In the 80s, it was really just like businesses. They would pop up here and there. There was a need for somewhere to put the kids while the parents would go to work. Slowly around the province, parents got together and decided to transform those settings into a nonprofit, where the child would be the center and where there would be different helpful resources for parents. Not necessarily on the spot, but they would be referrals. They would send parents towards specialists if they needed to or nutritionists or whatever.

The system was really all in place and the government only came over and decided to make it available everywhere and standardize the system to every region and every municipality, but a lot of the work was done by the community. What happened in 1997 was really a focus on accessibility. They wanted every family as much as possible, of course, which is still not the case. Not every family has a place right now, but they’re still working on accessibility in 2022.

That has been more the focus, and of course as we said, the financial aspect. Making it possible, If they didn’t have access to a nonprofit, low-cost daycare for the kids, then they would have different tax refunds or different ways of going at it so it would be similar cost, whether you’re in a nonprofit or for-profit, subsidized or unsubsidized setting. The reality is multiple. There are really many kinds of settings in this system locally.

Stéphanie: At the very beginning it was in subsidized settings. It was $5 for 10 hours a day, 261 days a year. That was the very kickstart of this accessibility challenge that they were focused on, and like Joell said, there were special programs also for families more in need or in a more disadvantaged setting on their side. There was really the system that was built at the very, very beginning.

Marnetta: I would imagine there’d be a lot of people flocking to that. If I’m going to pay $5 for a care, amazing. It does. It creates these opportunities that we didn’t have before. It kind of opens the door. I can go back to school. I can have a job, help to support my family, and level us up some.

I heard you mentioned that space was an issue. That was going to be something I was interested in. What was the plan for making more space once those slots were filled? Have you guys figured that out yet?

Joell: The quick answer to that one is no, we haven’t figured it out yet. We have a lot of families and a lot of children in the public daycare system. They’re still missing some places and there are still parents that are on really long waiting lists to get in.

But we also have many family child care settings. A lot of the time, what will happen is very young children and families with very young children will start their journey in the daycare system through family care. Eventually, they have a space that’s available to them, and they can get into a setting that has pre-K classes and more, like in a building not in a house. That’s the way it’s been for a long time.

Right now there are public policies that are being put in place, so they want to build more places. What will happen is they’ll make it easier for settings to open up a second setting and to then add spaces to their permits. Those are the types of initiatives that the government puts in place to help settings build and grow.

They’re cautious about that because they don’t want to have huge schools. They want to keep it low key and because it’s for young children. Here in Quebec, we have children from around one-year-old to five-year-olds in those settings. They want to keep it still small and not like a public school but really a childcare setting.

Stéphanie: And in proximity to families also, so more small settings around all the province. The other challenge is they need teachers, educators, and administrators. That’s the other part that’s challenging right now, particularly in the context of the pandemic. There are a lot of things to think through in this context, because we also want to offer those educators and teachers interesting wages and advantages also. That’s the other part. Not only the space but really the teachers and educators to take care of those children that need support.

Marnetta: Have they ever thought about using that same model with their family child care homes? We have the expertise and the children—they’re all ready—and that could kind of help out with that. I guess it depends on how you look at it because we might want them more in a formal setting, so that might handicap us on one end. But have they thought about that as a model for the family child care home?

Joell: The family child care is integrated in the system. We have subsidized family child care, so the parents would pay the same amount, whether they’re in family or in daycare. It’s a flat rate, so to speak.

Those that are subsidized are affiliated to a setting we call [...] CPE for [...] here in Quebec, so those family’s daycares or family settings are linked or connected to nonprofit settings. Also, that acts as professional development. They take care also of the inspections to make sure everything is okay and that safety issues are covered. They are linked to the system but in a different way.

Marnetta: Wonderful. Well, at least they are not out there alone. [...] that’s where they’re living. They exist, the children go there. We lose a lot of children through that and there’s so much support that could happen if we just legitimize them in some areas and stuff, so I love to have them connected together.

As I was digging into this model, the system that you guys created, one of the big takeaways from Quebec’s initial implementation of universal childcare was how important it is to ensure quality at scale. Can you tell me more about [...] and how it fits into that work?

Joell: The aspect of quality has always been there in the wishes and in orientations, the policies and the government. It is in all letters, in the first article of the law on child care that we have here in Quebec. But, as we said earlier, the focus has mainly been on accessibility. Is there enough room and what do we need to make sure that every family that wants a space in public, so to speak, a daycare has one. It’s been the main focus of the government on this issue.

There’s been some initiatives here and there that were mainly local and self-driven. We have associations that will help settings to have that conversation, think about quality and what that means, and how it looks in those specific settings.

But it’s really recent. It was in 2017 if my memory is correct—correct me, Stephanie, if I’m wrong—that they passed a new law, a new bill. It would make evaluation of quality mandatory for every setting. It’s really universal and everybody is evaluated on the same dimensions, with the same tools, and in the same way, so we can ensure that every family has not only a space but a quality space where the children can thrive, learn, and be ready for their social interaction and eventually school.

This is fairly new. The bill was passed in 2017 and they started evaluating in 2019. Where we fit in there is that we are the official trainer for CLASS in Quebec. Every childcare setting in Quebec is actually right now being evaluated on different dimensions of quality and for the dimension of interactions while the government chose CLASS.

We train the evaluators with CLASS. We also train the childcare setting professional, whether it be directors, teachers, professional development coach, or whoever basically wants to know more about that CLASS come to us. We facilitate that and, of course, we coach as well settings and educators, to have that conversation and think about those interactions, and how to make them more efficient, more beneficial to the children.

Stéphanie: And since 14 years now that CASIOPE exists, they have a focus. I say ‘they’ because I wasn’t there in the beginning, but we have really a focus on quality at all times around the children, and also we observe them, when we interact with them. There are also a lot of other tools that we have and coach and train. Staff, so teachers, administrators around to help ensure as well other dimensions of quality.

Darlene: Wonderful. Thank you. We’ll hear lots of system building for sure. It’s exciting to hear how there’s been such a focus on expanding seats, at the same time expanding quality, because I’ve seen some systems do it opposite, and you just focus on those increase in seats. Then you have to backpedal and go back and consider quality, so it’s exciting to hear. Your example in four states who are considering, like how do we do this and do it right, and how do we do both at the same time.

Along those lines, that’s a great lesson for our states to take away from the conversation today. I’m curious about what other lessons (maybe) you have learned as you’ve been training your CLASS observers to look for quality throughout Quebec, and particularly during COVID which has been a little bit more different thing for us to navigate. What lessons have you learned through that? What feedback do you hear from your observers, like what’s happening in this space? Does quality still matter? What’s it look like? How have they been navigating?

Joell: I kind of want to steer a little away from your question really rapidly, just because there’s one lesson that comes to mind for me is linking the initial development, the initial training. We train here in college. It’s a technical degree, that is a three-year college degree. It has to be all linked together. We have a system and it’s pretty well-integrated. It still needs work and it’s an ongoing process.

I think it needs to be an ongoing process, and you have to think about it all the time. I think about ways to make it better, more efficient, and that it stays connected and linked to the needs of the families. We have to think not only about the system and the needs of the family, but how we train those teachers to begin with. Do they have that concern about quality and the right interact, since that has an impact on the children?

Now back to the question you asked, of course, like you saw probably in the States as well, everything hit a standstill in March 2020. Everything stopped and nothing happened for a couple of months. But then what we hear now two years into it, is that they are observers and the settings that were trained in CLASS use the CLASS to change the conversation.

Instead of focusing on evaluating how well I am at creating a positive climate and my sensitivity with the children, they were using CLASS to allow teachers to realize that they’re still doing a good job even though they have to wear masks and even though they have to stay maybe further away from the children than they would like.

That was really powerful. It’s something we’ve been hearing a lot of the settings using that conversation in that tool to just calm people down and say that context is difficult but you’re still doing a good job. And not only are you doing a good job, but you’re having a positive impact on those children that’s especially needed right now because they’re living through it, too. They feel our anxiety, they feel our stress, and especially when mom and dad have to go work in the hospital for long hours. It’s been really a powerful tool that we didn’t even expect to have that impact.

Stéphanie: I say quality is a must-stay priority, and they really make sure that it is the case, but not to be detrimental to the mental health of the staff, either. This conversation around interaction is really to reassure them and to make sure that they feel okay. They tried to do a little parallel process with the tool also, so it’s really interesting to have those conversations with the administrators, coaches, and the teachers.

And further, the training. We started to do virtual training as well. In the beginning, we didn’t know if people would be there. Will they subscribe? Will they call us? Will they be interested in that? And they are. They really are. We have had several groups since May 2020. It was a big change for us to pass through, see people, and walk around the room to see if everybody’s okay, to check the cameras and things like that.

We think through really to make sure that we have this contact with the trainees, and that they feel like all alone at home on the screen. We really like changing our way to support them in the training. We use technologies, we use forms, we use breakout rooms and things like that, so it’s really, really coming together and it’s really helping them.

The feedback is pretty good, actually. Sometimes it’s easier for them to connect from home or from work instead of coming into the training room physically. For some people, it’s really helpful in that way, in this context especially. The answer is really good. We had some people from France, from other countries that speak French, to come to our training. It’s really special to live that.

Marnetta: I love that you’re still really into quality; it’s still the top thing. But you’re also helping them to still understand that the interactions they have with the children are still going to build those foundations and build that success. The parallel process of you demonstrating CLASS behaviors in your interactions with them virtually also helped them to have that.

Even if we’re apart from children and I can’t touch you, I can still care about you, check in on you, and display that teacher sensitivity. So can create an effective facilitation by using pro modalities virtually—breakout rooms, polls, and all those things that you were mentioning. Great parallel process to see how CLASS still lives, still is relevant, and still important, regardless of the setting that you’re in. That’s awesome.

What advice would you give others who are working to improve quality at scale, especially considering that expanded universal pre-K is going to be coming here possibly to the United States? What advice would you have for us?

Joell: That’s a good one because we’re still into it. This is all new for us as well. Really, I think there’ll be a lot of lessons to learn in the coming years, because now, Canada has just decided to have a universal childcare policy. The way to do it is helping out the other provinces to build their system. Everybody in Canada is also looking towards us to see how we do it because every province does it a little differently as probably it is in the United States as well.

Scaling, I think you really have to plan it out and be aware it’ll need to change as you go along. What was helpful for us was having varied partners that are responsible for the whole thing. Of course, we have the ministry that is responsible for the legislature, the bills, and the format. How that’s going to take place, what does that look like, and what are the expectations.

Then we have researchers that were involved in the pilots. They’re really keeping an eye on new information and new knowledge that we need to consider, so they’re feeding us on that end. Or the best way of going at it is compiling that information and data.

We have another firm that is responsible for going out there and doing the observation, writing the reports and sending them to the ministry, but also to the settings so they have that feedback on the evaluation. They know what their strong points are and where they might need to look into a little further, to dig deeper. Then we fit in with the training and professional development. It’s really many partners that help each other and help see different aspects, maybe of evaluation and that focus on quality with all our specialization.

Stéphanie: I think also maybe for you in the States, it’s build on what’s there. I know that there are a lot of programs. We hear a lot about Head Start, for example, so what can we take from those settings and try to generalize a little bit further.

I think it’s Darlene earlier that said it’s accessibility but quality at the same time. For Quebec, what is the universal aspect is really the educational program that’s behind all of this. What are the values or what approaches do we build our interactions and everything that’s around the children in those settings? How do we consider them? How do we treat them, et cetera?

It’s all those little details but are really important in identifying what’s really essential for this program to exist and be applied by all those different facilities. It’s setting those basics that needs to be crystal clear for everybody, build on them, and maybe get inspired by what’s already happening.

As Joell was saying earlier, the evolution of the system was from all those local initiatives, the capacity to build on those and not just we push everything aside and we do something new. It’s what’s already there and what can we use to make sure that we learn and expand on this knowledge, and those qualities to other settings and other programs also.

Marnetta: That’s amazing. Thank you. That’s some great information to help us to jumpstart. Very logical. I think also through our discussion being patient because you guys are still figuring this out, and it’s not going to be an immediate when. It’s going to take some work and some time. We just really have to stick to the course, be consistent, be [...] work, and it will work out. But it’s not going to happen by a snap of our fingers.

Joell: It’s not going to happen overnight. We’re still working on pre-K, 3–5, that does 0–5 haven’t been integrated yet in evaluation of quality and that focus on quality because the pilot project was very recent. It should come soon, but we’re still not there yet. We’re still learning as we go and making it better.

What Stéphanie said is really important—building on what is not scrapping everything in and starting over. There are local initiatives that are really interesting to look at, and who better than those people in those communities to say what works for them and what’s best?

Darlene: I want just to add, Stéphanie, what stood out to me and what you just said a minute ago was if we can keep the focus on the children and the families that we’re really serving, then have those core principles that you talked about—what do we value—and anchor yourself there, even though there’s a lot of work to do around it, that’s a good place to really start. Then make sure everyone’s going in the way, like a North Star, if you will, and not to forget who servants are. I just appreciate the approach you guys have shared.

Marnetta: We want to thank you, Joell and Stéphanie, for your time and sharing your insights with us. It was great having you here. I am excited to share that this episode will be translated into French and available along with the transcription and related resources, on our site Remember, behind great leading and teaching are powerful interactions. Let’s build that culture together.


New call-to-action