By Patti VanDiepen (guest opinion)
The protest rally over concern to planned cuts in education held Sunday in Charlottetown played host to a variety of speakers from parents to politicians and extended to our educators. Many aspects of our declining student achievement were discussed with the majority of viewpoints supporting the line of thinking that our Island children need our present number of teachers to remain in the public school system with the possibility of additional teacher resources if we shifted our mandate to address our student needs and not our budgetary obligations. After all, these children are our future.
Now we appreciate we are living in fiscally challenging times. But is removing teachers and educational assistants from our schools an attempt to cover misspent monies from this administration where they find themselves fervently trimming budgets in departments like Community Services and Seniors and Education?
Whatever the reason, I find it hard to believe in the year 2014, living in a western civilized country, that any government would find it forward thinking to not invest in education. Especially following the spanking the province received in our recent assessments. Ouch. If anything, one would deduce our administration, not wanting to be perceived as overseeing the poorest educational ratings in the country, would have poured dollars into our school system in the realization of good government management.
Not our P.E.I. government. They continue to slash and cut a system that has been frantically waving a white flag for the sake of our children. Gilles Arsenault, president of the P.E.I. Teachers Federation, hit the nail on the head when he stated that it is time for our administration to utilize a staffing model that speaks to the needs of our children and not to hide behind statistics like class sizes and student/teacher ratios that fail to reveal the realities of our Island classrooms.
The most troublesome statements came from our Education Minister Alan McIsaac. First with his opinion piece in the June 7 edition of The Guardian where he sets up a smoke and mirror play by stating that although some schools would see a loss of Reading Recovery Programs at their school, seven Island schools would be receiving a Primary Literacy Intervention Program. Sounds good, right? Cue the smoke and mirrors.
The Primary Literacy Intervention Program is not a new initiative. It has been used at our Island schools for students who have undergone the Reading Recovery Program in Grade 1, which is a strict intensive one on one program to aid students who need to be supported in developing a stronger literacy foundation.
So these seven Island schools’ Grade 1 students with literacy concerns will be receiving a less intensive thereby less effective and successful Primary Literacy Intervention Program currently utilized as a follow-up support once that student completed the more desired Reading Recovery Program. How is this encouraging stronger student achievement? If your child is having concerns in Primary and those concerns are not adequately addressed, how well do you believe that child will do in the future? Literacy affects every subject area.
Minister McIsaac then alluded at the rally to the discrepancies in our class sizes in a urban vs rural comparison. Do smaller rural school students deserve less quality programming than our overcrowded urban counterparts? Are those children not deserving to receive adequate teacher resources in order to have successful student achievement? Do our overcrowded urban facilities not deserve intervention in the form of smaller class sizes and also have access to adequate teacher resources?
I am sure however that your civic address should not determine the quality of education you receive on Prince Edward Island. Being a former farmer, Minister McIsaac should be a little more aware and perhaps a little more considerate of where our food comes from and not everyone can live in an urban setting to be “cookie-cutter” distributed in our classrooms as was his solution at the rally in order for Island students to have equitable access to resources.
He then stated the budget for education has ballooned over the past several years. Well, what budget hasn’t? Everything costs more.
We all realize that cost is an issue, but if you think education is expensive, try funding ignorance.
Patti VanDiepen of Green Meadows is a member of the Home and School Association for Morell Consolidated