On the evening of Thursday June 17th, I held a virtual Town Hall "Better than Bill 64: Ideas to improve education." It was widely recognized that Bill 64 is (now was) a bad bill because it takes us backwards. Among many things it will reduce local input into education, and the ability of schools to help disadvantaged students. It uses a model which has been ineffective and rejected. There are much better approaches than Bill 64. This Town Hall focused on several options. [Bill 64 will be removed from the Legislative calendar on October 6. But what will replace it remains important.]
In introducing the subject I mentioned the importance of addressing poverty, and indicated that the focus of this panel was not on poverty per se, but on approaches which have the potential to improve learning whatever children's starting point, and in particular to help those who are currently struggling for whatever reason.
Doug Adams and Heather Shelton spoke first - on competency based education. They worked at a very diverse elementary school with many Indigenous and immigrant children in the inner city of Brandon. Together, they developed a remarkably successful approach which put children in classes based on the skill and knowledge level of the child instead of being based on the age of the children as is the usual process.
Victoria Romero explained project-based education. It is a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an authentic, engaging and often complex question, problem or challenge. It is being used successfully in several Winnipeg schools including the Maples Met School.
Sheva Schwartz spoke about Leadership based education and the important of seeing that every child can be a leader, and putting a priority on teaching leadership skills to all children in order for them to succeed in school. It is an approach which has been described by Stephen Covey in his book "The Leader in Me". The approach has shown remarkable success in improving children's academic performance as well as in enhancing self esteem.
Niigaan Sinclair, who is Anishinabe, an Assistant Professor at the University of Manitoba and a regular commentator on Indigenous issues, provided an excellent perspective on how we can improve education for Indigenous students in Manitoba, in part by ensuring that Indigenous cultures are better understood and taught using an Indigenous perspective. He also talked about how we can improve our education system so that non-Indigenous students will have a better knowledge and understanding of Indigenous issues.
Raj Gill, a grade 12 student who came to Manitoba with his family from India two and a half years ago, spoke of the challenges of being a new immigrant to Canada. He provided ideas on how we can make changes to our education system to enable new immigrants to do well.
There was considerable discussion following the panel presentations, with agreement that there is room to make important and effective improvements to education in Manitoba, but that the path to improvement is not Bill 64, it is alternatives which have been demonstrated to work and which are based on the experiences of students in Manitoba.