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The Future of Primary and Secondary Education in Manitoba

April 29, 2018 I hosted a Forum on the Future of Primary and Secondary Education in Manitoba at the River Heights site of the Corydon Community Centre.  I introduced the Forum with four quotes which illustrated the need for this Forum and started the discussion. 

" We need to prepare kids for their future not our past."  Dr. Richard Maniuszko
"Education is one of the defining ways to create a climate for innovation and growth for this city and this province." Lloyd Axworthy
"Canada must grow its human capital.  Better education and training are key here." IISD Report
"Our educational systems must be retooled to maximize  these needed skills and attributes: strong fundamentals in writing, reading, coding and math; creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration; grit, self-motivation, lifelong learning habits; and entrepreneurship and improvization at every level."  Thomas Friedman

Rebecca Chartrand, Executive Director for Indigenous Strategy at Red River College was the lead off speaker,  She talked of the need to ensure indigenous students are doing well. To do this, she spoke of both the need for adequate funding and the need for a focus on indigenous languages, culture and perspectives.  She also spoke of the need to redefine success for indigenous students - as more than just doing well academically.  The latter is consistent with Thomas Friedman's concept in which multiple goals need to be included in educational systems in the future.

Wendy Bloomfield, Chair of the Seine River School Division presented next.  She emphasized that today, more and more, teachers are adapting to the learning style of individual students.  This means that schools and school curriculum must have the ability to be flexible, and that valuable skills like critical thinking and communication need to be emphasized. In the Seine how a School Division, they have four priorities.   These are: 1) Expand evidence-based decisions that support excellence and innovative practices focusing on literacy and numeracy. In this context much evidence supports the importance of teachers and of working with teachers to develop effective strategies for ongoing learning and to improve the quality of teaching.  2) Enrich early childhood education; As part of this goal, the Seine River School Division runs a pre-school program called Kids at Play in which young children have a half day of learning and a half day of play.  The program is voluntary, but 99 percent of parents have their children participating. 3) Enhance students emotional, cognitive, physical and social well-being.  In this area, they address mental health, drugs, alcohol among other issues.  To reduce bullying, the run a program called Roots of Empathy to help children learn empathy for others. and 4) Strengthen all arts programs, visual, dance, music and drama.  As part of this effort, the division is strengthening the ability of teachers to teach art.  These goals are consistent with the emerging view that education must consider the well-being of the whole child as well as being flexible enough to be tailored to the individual child, and that academic learning as traditionally viewed is only part of what children need to learn in school.

Leah Ross, who has taught in a variety of both public and private schools, and is currently teaching at Balmoral Hall, emphasized the need for the education system to be able to recognize the needs of children with learning disorders and children from disadvantaged backgrounds.   To illustrate the importance of this she told the story of a child with learning disability and a neurodevelopmental disorder (FASD) who came from a low income family and the need to provide him the individually tailored support so he can do well.

Ara Dungca, from a low income immigrant family who became student president at Grant Park High School, talked of how a lot of her own growth was shaped in elementary and high school.  She spoke of the need to recognize the different ways children learn and the importance of tailoring the learning program to the student.   She talked of how technology can be effective in helping this when used well, and of the importance of training teachers to be able to provide, as well as classroom learning, experiential learning and for kids to be able to explore and learn about things they are passionate about.  She also talked about the need for children to have continuous feedback as an important part of learning.
Valérie Rémillard, the president of the Éducatrices et éducateurs francophones du Manitoba and representing the Manitoba Teachers' Society, spoke of the need to address the shortage of French immersion and French teachers. The demand for these programs is increasing, and the benefits in our global world of a second language and broader cultural understanding are large.  
There were numerous comments and suggestions from the audience.   These included:
- Seven Oaks School Division has had a MET School at Garden City Collegiate since 2009 in which students have class sizes which are a maximum of 15 students with students spending two days a week going to internships in which they can explore their interests and passions. It is an example of an innovative approach which appears to be serving some students very well.
- Competency based assessments could be used more as a compliment to or instead of traditional marks. 
- Outdoor learning and/or land-based learning could be used more.
- Alternative learning systems may be needed for students who are not making it in the regular school system.  An example was provided of how kids went from 90% absent in a regular school program to 90% attendance in an effective alternative learning program. 
- working with parents as partners can be very effective
- there could be more collaboration with universities
- Tying in to children's passions can be very effective in addressing discipline and other problems.   An example was provided of a school in Pennsylvania in a low income neighbourhood where $250,000 a year was being spent on security.  When a new principal arrived and changed directiions - getting rid of the security and investing in art and music the problems with discipline and behaviour went away. 
- part of the shift that is needed is away from "deficit-based" approaches which measure where children fall short to "asset-based" learning and teaching which emphasizes assets which children have or acquire. 


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