Opposition leader questions whether education minister’s absenteeism linked to poor student outcomes
© Guardian photo by Heather Taweel
Education Minister Alan McIsaac
Education Minister Alan McIsaac was under fire Friday in the legislature about the numerous times he has been out of province over the last two years.
Opposition Leader Steven Myers questioned whether McIsaac’s frequent absences may be linked to the fact P.E.I. students have scored low on international test results.
“This minister’s absenteeism is a serious matter,” Myers said.
“Islanders don’t get to be gallivanting for weeks at a time all over the world, and they’re counting on this minister to take responsibility for this system, which is constantly failing our children.”
Myers pointed to 11 times Executive Council has had to appoint an acting minister to temporarily assume McIsaac’s portfolio.
Legislation dictates this must be done if a minister will be out of the province for more than seven days. That means McIsaac has been absent from the province for at least 77 days since becoming education minister.
So far this year, the minister has been away for a minimum of three weeks, Myers said.
But McIsaac said the trips were for important meetings with his provincial and federal counterparts. And even while away, he says he remains in constant contact with his office, his deputy minister and directors.
“Some of the greatest opportunities are when you meet around the table with the ministers in the other provinces, they learn from us as they did with kindergarten and the early years system, and we learn from them as well,” McIsaac said.
“You learn so much that you bring back to the system to work on ... we will continue to do that to grow and improve our education system in P.E.I.”
But Myers pointed to P.E.I.’s poor results in the 2013 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) report.
P.E.I. students scored last in the country in the PISA results. The province was also repeatedly highlighted for coming in below the OECD average in all three areas of testing — math, reading and science.
“Our education system is constantly in last place and this minister is failing children in this province,” Myer said. “I believe the minister is an absolute failure in his portfolio.”
McIsaac fired back, pointing to Myers’ political record as interim leader of the Progressive Conservative party. He pointed to the fact Myers kicked former party leader Olive Crane out of the Opposition caucus and lost another member when Hal Perry crossed the floor.
“Since he’s taken the front bench he’s moved his party, that’s well known and recognized in this province, from a strong second position to a distant third,” McIsaac said, referencing the party’s standing in recent CRA polls.
“I don’t think I’ll be taking the lead from that person.”
Myers then accused McIsaac of passing the buck on sensitive issues to the unelected English Language School Board.
“Why can’t you understand that parents expect more from you in a time of complete and absolute crisis in the system?”
McIsaac defended the P.E.I. school system, saying student-teacher ratios, the new early years and kindergarten programs and assessments have all help to improve the system for students and teachers.