Keep Education on the radar before the October 4th Election

Commentary, Education, Rodney Clifton

The leaders of the four Manitoba political parties—the Greens, Liberals, NDP, and Progressive Conservatives—are traveling the province telling voters some of the great things they will do once they are elected on October 4th. 

Surprisingly, even though school just started, the political leaders have skirted policies that would help ensure that today’s students become tomorrow’s productive citizens.  Consequently, parents and other citizens must ask the candidates about their educational policies.

At least three policies would help students become better prepared for the future. 

First, the leaders should say that all schools must emphasize a core curriculum in languages, English and/or French, and mathematics.  Other subjects, of course, should not be neglected, but languages and mathematics must be stressed because they are foundational.  Presently, many college instructors, university professors, and employers are decrying the lack of adequate knowledge and skills shown by young people in language and mathematics.  Certainly, this is the concern of the 184 petitioners who have urged the Minister of Education to increase the mathematics standard for admission to faculties of education (Teachers’ math skills ‘alarmingly weak’, Winnipeg Free Press, Sept. 10, A13).

Second, the leaders should say that standardized examinations in English and/or French and mathematics will be required for high school graduation.  There is, in fact, no better way of ensuring that students actually know how adequately to express themselves in an official language and that they know basic mathematics.  In addition, the leaders need to say that these examinations will be created and marked centrally by teachers who teach the subjects, and that the range and average marks will be published so that students know where they stand in their school, in the division, and provincially.

At present, Manitoba provincial grade 12 standards exams are not published, so students—and their parents—do not know how well they are doing in comparison with others.  In addition, the exams are graded at the divisional- or the school-level, resulting in unreliability and invalidity which is unfair to some students.   Reliability and validity, indeed fairness, would be increased with centrally-created and graded graduation examinations, and with the publication of the results for schools, divisions, and the province.

Finally, the leaders must ensure that teachers who have been educated in programs that focus on early, middle, or senior years, are only certified to teach in the grades and subjects in which they have specialized preparation.  At present, teachers are educated in specialized streams, but in Manitoba they are certified to teach any subject at any grade level.  The Manitoba Teachers Society favours having its members certified to teach any subject at any grade level—hardly a professional approach to license teachers.  However, it is not a good reason for a provincial government that represents all citizens to certify teachers without regard to their demonstrable expertise.

It is sad that the Greens, Liberals, NDP, and Progressive Conservatives leaders have not been explicit enough about policies to help students to become more literate and numerate before they graduate.  Obviously, it would help if schools stressed languages and mathematics as the core subjects, that graduating students are shown by standardized exams to be competent in one or both official languages and mathematics, and that teachers teach in grade levels and subjects were they have specific expertise.  

Thus, it is up to parents and citizens to put education on the political agenda for October 4th.  So, when candidates come to your door, ask them what they are going to do to ensure that fewer high school graduates flunk out of college and university and fewer employers need to teach young employees basic literacy and numeracy skills.