Rant #2 – Who will be that Voice?
Recently, an editorial in the Telegraph-Journal (New Brunswick) pointed out that the New Brunswick Teachers Association (NBTA) is calling upon the Department of Education to conduct a review of how mentally and physically disabled students are integrated in the province’s schools. The editor goes on to write, “New Brunswick needs a full education strategy that ensures all children, regardless of mental or physical disability, rural or urban, French of English, can achieve a national standard in results. And to do so in a fiscally responsible fashion.”
Personally, I believe that education is the responsibility of the home, and that schools are here to help; consequently, parents have the responsibility to ensure that their children are receiving the education they deserve and need. Sadly, many parents fall short of being that voice. Many of them, themselves, did not have a good experience in school and many are intimidated by the system. So it comes down to the education system itself to be that voice.
We have had groups such as the New Brunswick Association for Community Living and Canadian Parents for French be a voice for select groups of students, but who is the voice for all students? It should be the NBTA and the Department of Education. If they are, in fact, that voice, then why did the Conference Board of Canada in 2014 give the province a D grade in how we are delivering education in this province?
One solution that has been proposed is to increase the length of the school day, but you don’t make a meatloaf better by making it bigger. More of the same is not necessarily an improvement. We need to define exactly what it is we are hoping to achieve. If you ask 20 different administrators to define the mission of education in NB you will get 20 different answers.
School Education is the only institution that groups its clientele according to age. When a person goes to a hospital s/he is categorized according to his/her need. When you apply to a college or university you are asked about your interests. When you join the military you are grouped according to your aptitude. When a student enters a school the question is asked, “When were you born?” If the child’s birthday falls between January 1st and December 31st of a particular year, s/he is placed in a little box with same-aged children. An adult enters the room and aims for the middle. This represents an efficient way of grouping but not a very effective one. I should point out, however, that I am not a big fan of homogeneous grouping based on ability, but there are more effective ways to sort students – the egg carton approach isn’t it.
Ten years ago the government of the day declared that this province’s provincial test scores would go from “worst to first”. So here we are, ten years later, and little has changed. We have been reminded of the expression, a goal without a plan is just a dream. My fear is, ten years from now we will be having the same discussion.
If parents are not going to be that voice, then teachers need to step up to the plate. Unfortunately, we are sorely lacking leadership. Schools are management rich but vision deficient. Too many are policy-centred or curriculum-centred or whatever-is-convenient-at-the-time-centred. There are many classrooms and a number of schools in which great and wonderful things are happening, but I fear they are the exception rather than the norm. Until we collectively become student-centred we will continue to salute the precepts of efficiency rather than the tenets of effectiveness.
If the government is going to be that voice then the question that needs to be asked is, “How do we best serve our students?” and not, “What is the least we need to do to be re-elected?”
There are real and attainable solutions to the dilemmas facing public school education. The problem is, the wrong people are sitting around the table trying to find them.
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