Transcript: Interview: Dr. Fraser Mustard | Apr 20, 1999

A woman in her thirties sits in the studio. She has short straight blond hair with bangs. She wears a coral blouse and a chocolate brown blazer.

She says JOINING US TONIGHT IS RENOWNED
RESEARCHER AND CO-CHAIR OF
THE EARLY YEARS STUDY,
DOCTOR FRASER MUSTARD.
DOCTOR, WELCOME, AND
THANK YOU FOR BEING HERE.
WE WANT TO KNOW WHAT YOU DID.
EVERYBODY REMEMBERS THAT
WHEN PREMIER MIKE HARRIS WAS
ELECTED, AMONG THE THINGS
HE DID WAS MAKE JUNIOR
KINDERGARTEN NON-COMPULSORY.
WHAT'S IN YOUR REPORT THAT
CHANGED HIS MIND ABOUT EARLY
CHILDHOOD EDUCATION?

A caption reads “Doctor Fraser Mustard. Co-chair, Early Years Study.”
Doctor Fraser Mustard is in his seventies, clean-shaven and with short wavy white hair. He wears a gray suit and a black turtleneck sweater.

He says I SUSPECT HIS MIND WAS ALWAYS
COMMITTED TO EARLY CHILDHOOD.
WHAT CHANGED, POSSIBLY,
IS THE POLITICAL PROCESS,
WHEREBY GOVERNMENTS MAY DECIDE
TO PROVIDE THEIR OWN FORM
OF LEADERSHIP ON THE
VERY IMPORTANT ISSUE.
LET'S HOPE THAT
THAT'S THE CASE.

The woman says WELL, IN FACT, WHAT PREMIER
HARRIS SAID SEVERAL YEARS AGO
WAS THAT HE WASN'T CONVINCED
WE NEEDED STRUCTURED EARLY
CHILDHOOD EDUCATION.
AND, IN FACT, YOU THINK WE NEED
SOME ASSISTANCE RIGHT FROM
CONCEPTION, SOME ATTENTION
RIGHT THROUGH TO AGE SIX?

Fraser says SURE.

The woman says TELL US WHY?

Fraser says WELL, THE WORLD HAS CHANGED.
THE NEURO SCIENCE REVOLUTION
ABOUT HOW THE BRAIN DEVELOPS
HAS BECOME A LOT CLEARER.
YOU CAN SORT OF SIMPLIFY THAT
STORY THAT THE QUALITY OF THE
INTERACTIONS YOU HAVE WHEN
YOU ARE VERY YOUNG USUALLY
INFLUENCES HOW THE BRAIN
CONNECTIONS ARE FORMED AND
THE BRAIN PATHWAYS ARE
SCULPTED, WHICH EFFECTS
LEARNING CAPACITY, BEHAVIOUR,
AND HEALTH THROUGHOUT
THE LIFE CYCLE.
AND THAT'S PRETTY STRONGLY
ENTRENCHED NOW AMONGST
PEOPLE WHO UNDERSTAND
THE SUBJECT.

The woman says EXACTLY.
AND, IN FACT, ONE OF THE
REASONS YOU'RE SO WELL KNOWN IS
BECAUSE YOU HAVE BEEN FIGHTING
FOR A VERY LONG TIME TO GET
PEOPLE TO REALIZE
PRECISELY THAT.
WHAT'S NEW IN YOUR REPORT?

Fraser says THE REPORT REALLY BUILDS
ON A BODY OF KNOWLEDGE,
WHICH IS SUBSTANTIAL.
IT BUILDS ON THE FACT THE
WORLD BANK HAS NOW ADOPTED
THIS AS A HUGELY IMPORTANT
INVESTMENT STRATEGY IN THE
DEVELOPING WORLD, WHICH
IT NEVER DID BEFORE.
THE BANK FOR LATIN AMERICA NOW
REALIZES THEY WILL NOT BREAK
THE CYCLES OF CRIME AND
VIOLENCE UNLESS THEY ADDRESS
THE EARLY YEARS.
THE BRITISH GOVERNMENT'S JUST
RELEASED A REPORT TO DO THAT,
AND THE UNITED STATES HAS GOT
42 GOVERNORS WHO HAVE TAKEN
THIS UP A KEY ISSUE.
SO WHAT'S NEW IS A GRADUALLY
DEVELOPING REAL UNDERSTANDING
OF THE IMPORTANCE, WHICH I
THINK HOPEFULLY THE PREMIER OF
THIS PROVINCE UNDERSTANDS ITS
IMPORTANCE, AND I HOPE ALL THE
OTHER POLITICAL LEADERS
UNDERSTANDS ITS IMPORTANCE.

The woman says HOW WILL THINGS CHANGE
IF PEOPLE LISTEN TO YOU?

Fraser says WELL, YOU HAVE TO THINK ABOUT
THE COMPLEX ECONOMIC AND
SOCIAL CHANGES TODAY.
WE ARE A WEALTHY SOCIETY, BUT
OUR WEALTH ISN'T GROWING THE
WAY IT USED TO GROW
WHEN I WAS YOUNGER.
YOUNGER PEOPLE ARE
UNDER COMPLEX STRESSES,
FINANCIAL AND OTHERWISE.
INTERGENERATIONAL FAMILY
STRUCTURES ARE NOT
WHAT THEY WERE BACK
IN MY GENERATION.
SO YOU HAVE TO THINK ABOUT
HOW YOU HANDLE THESE THINGS,
PARTICULARLY WHEN YOU'VE GOT
ABOUT 65 PERCENT OF WOMEN
WITH CHILDREN UNDER 11
IN THE LABOUR FORCE.
SO WE CAN SHOVE ALL OF YOU
BACK HOME, BUT I DON'T THINK
UNLESS WE HAVE A POLICE
FORCE WE CAN DO THAT--

The woman says AND YOU WOULDN'T WANT TO SHOVE
US ALL BACK IN, WOULD YOU?

Fraser says I'M NOT SURE ABOUT THAT,
BUT I WON'T REVEAL MY TRUE
BELIEFS, BUT THE REAL ISSUE
IS THAT'S A HARSH REALITY.
AND GIVEN THAT, AND GIVEN THAT
CHILDREN NEED HIGH QUALITY
INTERACTION DURING THESE
DEVELOPMENT PERIODS, THEN IT'S
TIME FOR US TO BECOME
INNOVATIVE AND CREATE THE KIND
OF INSTRUMENTS THAT LET US DO
THAT, AND THAT'S BASICALLY
WHAT THE REPORT ARGUES.

The woman says SO HOW DO WE DO THAT?
BECAUSE YOU ARE SAYING, IN
FACT, RIGHT FROM CONCEPTION
WE NEED TO DO DOING WHAT?

Fraser says YOU NEED TO BE
SUPPORTING PARENTS.
FROM CONCEPTION TO BIRTH,
IT'S THE PARENT AND CHILD
IN UTERO.
AND LOTS OF MOTHERS
NEED A BIT OF HELP.
WE KNOW THAT.
AND THE CHILD'S BRAIN IS
BEING WIRED IN UTERO ANYWAY,
SO YOU MAY AS WELL DO THAT.
NUTRITION IS A FACTOR.
WHEN THE CHILD IS BORN, MANY
MUMS WOULD LIKE TO BE PART OF
SOME KIND OF PARENTING
GROUP THAT IS SUPPORTIVE.
SO YOU COULD MAKE THAT
PART OF THE CENTRE.
SO WHAT YOU ARE DOING IS A
KIND OF FORMAL CONTINUING
EDUCATION WHICH MAYBE
GRANDPARENTS DID A HUNDRED
YEARS AGO, BUT IT'S LESS
POSSIBLE NOW IN A STRUCTURE
WHERE PEOPLE ARE INTERACTING
WITH EACH OTHER.
AND THE KIDS START
INTERACTING WITH EACH OTHER.
BECAUSE JUST REMEMBER, THE
WIRING OF YOUR BRAIN IS
DEPENDENT ON TWO GENERATIONS,
THE CAREGIVER AND THE CHILD.

The woman says SO DOES THAT MEAN THAT
CHILDREN AS YOUNG AS, I GUESS,
ONE, OR EVEN TWO,
MIGHT BE IN SCHOOL?

Fraser says I WOULDN'T CALL IT SCHOOL.
BECAUSE SCHOOL IMPLIES
DIDACTIC TEACHING.
I MEAN, CHILDREN ARE LIKE
KITTENS AND DOGS, YOUNG PUPS.
THEY LEARN THROUGH PLAY.
REALLY, IF YOU THINK ABOUT
IT AS PROBLEM-BASED LEARNING
THROUGH PLAY, WHICH IS WHAT
IT IS, THEN IT IS REALLY
PLAY-BASED LEARNING WHICH
IS AN INTERACTIVE FUNCTION
BETWEEN THE CHILD AND WHATEVER
THE ADULT IS, AND CHILDREN.

The woman says WHERE WOULD IT TAKE PLACE?

Fraser says IT COULD TAKE
PLACE IN A HOME.
IT COULD TAKE PLACE IN AN
INSTITUTIONAL STRUCTURE,
WHICH COULD BE IN A WORKPLACE,
OR ON SCHOOL GROUNDS.

The woman says SO YOU'RE TALKING ABOUT SOME
FORM OF STIMULATION STARTING
AS EARLY AS POSSIBLE.

Fraser says SURE.

The woman says WHO IS GOING TO PAY FOR THIS?
HAVE YOU GOT A COMMITMENT
FROM THE PREMIER?
WE HEARD HIM TALKING TODAY
ABOUT SECURED FUNDING
FOR JUNIOR KINDERGARTEN.
WHAT ABOUT PLAY CENTRES?
WHAT ABOUT SORT OF
STRUCTURED PLAY
AND LEARNING ENVIRONMENTS?

Fraser says WELL, YOU ASK WHO IS GOING TO
PAY, YOU AND I ARE GOING TO PAY.
NOW YOU CAN PAY THROUGH
ALL KINDS OF ROUTES.
YOU CAN PAY BY THE GOVERNMENT
TAXING US AND REDISTRIBUTING
IT THROUGH
GOVERNMENT PROGRAMS.
YOU CAN PAY BY
PAYING USER FEES.
YOU CAN PAY THROUGH EMPLOYERS
CREATING CENTRES FOR THEIR
EMPLOYEES THROUGH SOME
KIND OF TAX CREDIT SYSTEM.
AND BECAUSE THIS KIND
OF DEVELOPMENT MUST BE
EXQUISITELY SENSITIVE IN
THE EARLY YEARS TO CULTURE,
LANGUAGE, ETHNIC
CONSIDERATIONS, YOU DON'T WANT
A COOKIE CUTTER SOLUTION.
IT'S GOT TO BE EXQUISITELY
COMMUNITY SENSITIVE.
SO MOST JURISDICTIONS
THAT DO THIS HAVE A VERY
COMMUNITY-BASED
APPROACH TO DOING IT.
SOME KIND OF BOARD OR
SOMETHING THAT OVERSEES THE
CREATING OF THESE
CENTRES IN THE BOARD.
AND YOU'VE GOT TO FIND WAYS TO
MOBILIZE ALL THE ACTIVITIES
THAT CURRENTLY GO ON THAT MANY
CLEVER PEOPLE PUT TOGETHER IN
SOME COMMUNITIES THAT
ACTUALLY START TO CREATE
THIS KIND OF ACTIVITY.

The woman says BUT DO YOU HAVE A SENSE
FROM THE PREMIER THAT THE
GOVERNMENT REALLY WANTS
TO TAKE THE LEAD ON THIS?
THAT THEY WANT TO BE OUT THERE
TRYING TO PULL ALL THESE
SERVICES TOGETHER, MAKING
THESE SERVICES AVAILABLE IN
EVERY COMMUNITY?

Fraser says I THINK, DESPITE WHAT PEOPLE
MIGHT SAY, I THINK THIS IS
ONE ISSUE THAT THIS
PREMIER WANTS TO LEAD.

The woman says HE WANTS TO LEAD THIS?

Fraser says YES.

The woman says WHAT ABOUT THE PRIVATE SECTOR
BECAUSE HE HAS MENTIONED
THERE COULD BE SOME
GOVERNMENT MONEY GOING INTO
THIS, AS YOU POINT OUT,
TAXPAYER MONEY, THAT THE
PRIVATE SECTOR NEEDS
TO GET INVOLVED.
HOW?

Fraser says JUST THINK ABOUT IF YOU RAN A
BUNCH OF SMALL BUSINESSES IN
SMALL TOWNS, AND YOU EMPLOY
A LOT OF WOMEN, MANY OF THEM
WITH YOUNG CHILDREN.
IF YOU TALK TO SOME OF
THESE PEOPLE, THEY KNOW
THAT THERE ARE PROBLEMS.
SO IF THEY HAVE A TAX CREDIT
SCHEME TO ORGANIZE AN EARLY
CHILD DEVELOPMENT CAPABILITY
IN THEIR COMMUNITY WITH OTHER
BUSINESSES OPEN TO THEIR OWN
EMPLOYEES AND OPEN TO THE
COMMUNITY, YOU'VE ALREADY
STARTED TO CREATE A PRIVATE
SECTOR INTEREST IN THIS.
AND THE GOOD THING ABOUT
THAT IS BECAUSE THEY ALL VOTE,
YOU ARE ACTUALLY CREATING A
VOTER CONSTITUENCY WHICH WILL
SUPPORT THAT, WHICH MAY THEN
ALLOW THE TAX BASE COMPONENT
TO THAT TO INCREASE.
BUT UNLESS YOU INVOLVE THE
PUBLIC AND PRIVATE SECTORS AND
COMMUNITIES IN THIS, AND
GOVERNMENTS, YOU REALLY WON'T
MAKE IT WORK.
AND EVERY JURISDICTION THAT'S
LOOKED AT THIS KNOWS THAT
THIS IS WHAT YOU HAVE TO DO.

The woman says YOU KNOW, I THINK IT'S BEEN
A STEREOTYPE FOR A WHILE THAT
THE YOUNGSTERS WHO ARE MOST
DISADVANTAGED ARE THOSE WHO
COME FROM LOW-INCOME FAMILIES.
DID YOU FIND THAT?

Fraser says NO, WE DID NOT FIND THAT.
BUT THIS GETS INTO A VERY
COMPLICATED MEASUREMENT TOOL.
FIRST OF ALL, REMEMBER THE
BRAIN IS THE PATHWAY TO
LEARNING, BEHAVIOUR
AND HEALTH.
AND SO WHEN YOU LOOK AT HEALTH
OR LEARNING, AGAINST WHAT WE
CALL SOCIAL ECONOMIC MEASURES,
THIS IS INCOME, EDUCATION OF
FAMILIES, ETC., YOU FIND
THERE ARE GRADIENTS.
A HILL'S A STEEP GRADIENTS,
AND YOU HAVE FLAT GRADIENTS.
AND WHAT YOU FIND IS
THAT IN OUR CULTURE,
ALL THESE MEASUREMENTS
ARE, IN EFFECT, GRADIENTS.
THERE IS NO THRESHOLD; THERE
IS NO POVERTY CUT-OFF POINT.
AND, ACTUALLY, IN EFFECT,
WHEN YOU LOOK AT IT, THE MOST
CHILDREN IN DIFFICULTY, THE
TOTAL NUMBERS ARE ACTUALLY
IN THE MIDDLE CLASS.

The woman says AND WHY IS THAT?

Fraser says BECAUSE WHATEVER IS AFFECTING
THIS IS AFFECTING ALL SOCIAL
CLASSES, INCLUDING
THE TOP END.
BASICALLY, 20 PERCENT OF THE
KIDS IN THE TOP QUARTILE OF
FAMILY INCOME ARE IN TROUBLE,
AND 35 PERCENT IN THE BOTTOM
QUARTILE.
AND THAT MEANS YOU'VE GOT A
MASSIVE UNIVERSAL PROBLEM,
NOT JUST A SIMPLE PROBLEM THAT'S
AT THE TAIL END OF POVERTY,
WHICH OF COURSE HAS A BIGGER
BURDEN THAN THE PEOPLE
AT THE TOP END.
BUT THERE IS A VERY GENERIC
PROBLEM AFFECTING ALL THIS.

The woman says LET'S DO SOME EDUCATION THEN.
WHY IS SIX A MAGIC AGE?
SIX AND UNDER.
WHAT NEEDS TO
BE DONE AND WHY?

Fraser says WELL, THE BULK OF THE BRAIN,
BASIC WIRING AND SCULPTING AS
A RESULT OF THE SENSORY
PATHWAYS BEING STIMULATED SUCH
AS VISION, SOUND, TOUCH,
SMELL, THAT BASIC PART OF THAT
SCULPTING IS DONE BY
THE AGE OF FIVE TO SIX.
YOU CAN STILL WORK ON IT,
OBVIOUSLY, BUT THE CORE
STRUCTURES ARE PUT INTO PLACE
WHICH AFFECT HOW YOU ARE
GOING TO LEARN MATHEMATICS,
ARE GOING TO AFFECT YOUR
LANGUAGE SKILLS AND
LITERACY LATER ON IN LIFE.

The woman says YOU ELUDED TO THE FACT MAYBE
IT WOULD BE GREAT TO HAVE
MORE MOTHERS AT HOME.
I'M ASSUMING THAT COULD INCLUDE
MORE FATHERS AT HOME, TOO.
IF PEOPLE STAY AT HOME
AND LOOK AFTER THEIR KIDS,
IS THAT ENOUGH?
OR ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT A
PROGRAM THAT WOULD HAVE YOU
GOING TO PARENTING CENTRES
AND HAVE EXTRA STIMULATION,
PERHAPS BEING EXPOSED TO
PEOPLE WHO HAVE GOT TRAINING
IN EARLY CHILDHOOD
DEVELOPMENT.

Fraser says I THINK THE ANSWER TODAY
IS THE LATTER IS IMPORTANT.
YOU REALLY NEED TO GIVE THEM
THE OPPORTUNITY TO INTERACT
WITH OTHER PARENTS AND
WITH KNOWLEDGEABLE PEOPLE.
THAT HAS BIG EFFECTS.
IT ACTUALLY INFLUENCES IQ.

The woman says TO HAVE EARLY INTERACTION?

Fraser says OH, YES.
YOU CAN SHIFT IQ UP
SUBSTANTIALLY BY GOOD
EARLY INTERACTION.

The woman says I'M STILL PUZZLED, THOUGH, HOW
YOU'VE MANAGED TO MOVE THE
GOVERNMENT'S UNDERSTANDING
THAT THIS IS SO CRITICAL
AND WORTH, I GUESS,
SPENDING DOLLARS ON.
BECAUSE WE HAVE HAD THESE
STUDIES FOR QUITE A LONG TIME.
AND WE'VE GOT
RESISTANCE TO THEM.

Fraser says I THINK, FOR THE FIRST TIME,
PEOPLE IN ONTARIO IN THIS
GOVERNMENT HAVE ACTUALLY BEEN
EXPOSED TO WHERE OUR CHILDREN
IN RELATION TO THE
REST OF CANADA.
AND WE HAVE A WAY TO
GO IN ALL SOCIAL CLASSES
TO IMPROVE THINGS.

The woman says TELL US ABOUT WHERE
WE ARE, THOUGH.
HOW DOES ONTARIO FARE IN
COMPARISON TO THE REST
OF THE PROVINCES?

Fraser says IN TERMS OF ONE OF THE VERY
IMPORTANT TESTS WHICH IS
VERBAL SKILLS AT AGE FOUR AND
FIVE, WHICH GOES INTO LITERACY
AND LANGUAGE SKILLS, WE
ARE SUBSTANTIALLY BEHIND
IN EVERY SOCIAL CLASS
THE REST OF CANADA.
IN MATHEMATICS, IN GRADES SIX
TO TEN TESTING, TEN TO 11,
AND SIX TO TEN WERE ONE AND A
HALF GRADES BEHIND THE REST
OF CANADA, AND THE TEN
TO 11 WERE TWO GRADES.
NOW, IF YOU WANT TO IMPROVE
MATHEMATICS, YOU'VE GOT TO
INTERVENE IN PRESCHOOL.

The woman says PRESCHOOL.
HOW COME?

Fraser says BECAUSE THAT'S WHERE YOU LAY
THE CORE FUNCTIONS OF THE
BRAIN FOR MORE IN-DEPTH SORT
OF COGNITIVE CHARACTERISTICS
THAT ARE IMPORTANT FOR
ADVANCED MATHEMATICS.

The woman says SO YOU'VE BEEN ABLE TO
DEMONSTRATE THAT THERE IS A
REAL LINK BETWEEN OUR POOR,
WELL, HIGH SCHOOL SCORES, I
GUESS, AND THE FACT WE ARE
JUST NOT DOING ENOUGH WORK AT
THE OTHER END.

Fraser says WELL, I WILL ARGUE
THAT THAT'S THE CASE.
SOME PEOPLE IN EDUCATION
WILL ARGUE THAT I'VE BEEN
TOO STRONG ON THAT.
AND OBVIOUSLY, SCHOOLING
DOES INFLUENCE IT.
BUT VIC FUCHS IS AN AMERICAN
WHO LOOKS AT THE UNITED STATES
STATES IN TERMS OF CHILDREN'S
READINESS WHEN THEY HIT
SCHOOL SYSTEMS TO LEARN.
HE SHOWED THAT THE STATES THAT
HAVE A HIGH PROPORTION OF
KIDS NOT READY TO LEARN DO
POORLY IN GRADE EIGHT MATHS,
AND THOSE THAT ARE.
HE SAID, DON'T BASH THE
TEACHERS, INVEST IN PRESCHOOL
IF YOU WANT TO CHANGE IT.

The woman says SO WHEN YOU SAY THAT IF WE
IMPLEMENT THESE MEASURES WE
ARE GOING TO SEE HIGHER
QUALITY POPULATION,
EVEN WITHIN 20 YEARS.

Fraser says IF YOU REALLY DID THIS
BOLDLY, AND IF YOU COULD GET
YOUR SOCIETY TO COMMIT TO
THIS, YOU COULD SEE CHANGES
WITHIN FIVE YEARS.

The woman says WITHIN FIVE YEARS WE COULD
SEE IMPROVEMENTS IN TEST
PERFORMANCES, IQ LEVELS,
BETTER SOCIAL SKILLS?

Fraser says YES.

The woman says AND YOU CONVINCED
THE PREMIER.

Fraser says I DON'T KNOW.
HE SEEMS TO UNDERSTAND IT.
SEEMS TO BE HAPPY
TO GO ALONG WITH IT.

The woman says I'D LIKE TO THANK
YOU FOR BEING HERE.

Fraser says THANK YOU.

The woman says DOCTOR FRASER MUSTARD,
AUTHOR OF THE
EARLY YEARS STUDY.

Watch: Interview: Dr. Fraser Mustard