Time to Make Changes in Education

My letter below was published in The Telegram on June 14. The end of the school year is an opportune time to reflect on how to best improve the quality of public education in Newfoundland and Labrador. Now more than ever, our children deserve an education system that does not leave a single child behind. Considering our relatively small population and our significant bounty of available natural resources, we can create the best education system in Canada, one that can be held up as an exemplar for the rest of the world. We have excellent teachers and excellent schools, and we have an excellent opportunity to build on our recent successes and create long-term prosperity. It’s time to provide a school environment that will enable our students and teachers to achieve even greater heights of success.

Kindergarten improvements. Full-day kindergarten programs are an excellent place to begin a new round of school reform. While many forward-thinking jurisdictions are introducing full-day kindergarten, our government continues to dismiss its benefits. In addition to its long-term educational benefits, including improved academic skills, full-day kindergarten would be a welcome reprieve for working families contending with the crushing cost of childcare and the disruption to the regular working day. While government continues to question the cost, children and parents are paying the price.

Flawed and outdated formula. Our schools continue to struggle with an outdated and flawed teacher allocation model. While the model places government’s education spending in the best possible light, it does not allow for the real teacher needs for French language education, special needs programming, senior high school courses and small rural schools. The formula fails to recognize the diverse needs of our various school communities. The problem is evident to teachers and parents. An independent review of the process of providing sufficient teacher resources is long overdue.

Time for innovation. Despite the efforts of excellent teachers and schools, government has not shown suitably strong leadership on providing schooling innovations. This is evident in the situation faced by students who, for academic, social, personal, and other reasons, do not complete the senior high school curriculum by the end of Grade 12. While many of these students demonstrate their eagerness to graduate by returning for a fourth year of senior high, about one-quarter still do not graduate. For two decades, parents, educators and community leaders have been calling for alternative schooling options that work for at-risk and gifted students alike. Instead, too many of our students, despite their promise and unique abilities, continue to fall through the cracks.

Looking at alternatives. Alternative schools are a necessary innovation that will go one additional step toward ensuring the possibility of success for students who have not thrived in the traditional school environment. It is a small investment that could provide a lifetime of return for many of our struggling students. At a time in our history when the demand for skilled labour is increasing, government should be ensuring that each and every young Newfoundlander and Labradorian has the opportunity to join in our collective prosperity, to maximize their opportunities, and to achieve meaningful employment. Not one of them should be left behind.