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Why is the Quebec program “Agir tôt” controversial?

Michel Parazelli, David Auclair, Marie-Christine Brault

Research framework: In Quebec, social and educational policies in early childhood have been gradually guided for more than 20 years by early predictive prevention of behavioural and learning disorders. A striking example is the recent program “Agir tôt”, whose existence is justified by the results of the Quebec Survey of Child Development in Kindergarten (QSCDK) which uses the Early development instrument (EDI).

Objective: This article invites debate by questioning the normative foundations of these governmental programs.

Methodology: Our scientific approach is based on a critical epistemological posture, as well as inductive and part of a critical trend of qualitative research. By analyzing the texts describing the EDI and “Agir tôt” program, we questioned the concepts and ideological values used to guide a) the understanding of the development of the child and its difficulties and b) the purpose of these intentions and policies.

Results: Our analysis revealed theoretical and methodological biases and identified a specific normativity underlying these controversial preventive practices, including the choice to interpret the evidence from the stance of behavioural biology.

Conclusions: This program is in line with the biomedical rationality of predictive early prevention by considering as absolute truths: on the one hand, hypotheses about brain development and, on the other hand, a behaviourist interpretation of normality.

Contribution: Our research shows that these biases are largely ignored not only by parents, but by early childhood managers and professionals. A consequence is to take away the responsibility and the voice of parents that are then forced to learn from experts what their needs should be.