By Alec Bruce

It’s wordy, often vague and sometimes ungrammatical, but give the Liberal government’s new education plan an “E” for effort, if not precisely excellence.

As a so-called “visioning document”, it’s pretty good. But, then, it’s hard to knock anything that purports to “ensure school readiness, help children develop a passion for learning; work urgently on literacy, numeracy, and science; live up to the promise of inclusion; engage communities and partners in improving schools; promote cultural identity and linguistic growth; and create healthy and safe schools.”

As a veritable roadmap for change, however, it’s missing a few key signposts and milestones. Charles Cirtwill, the acting president of the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies may be curmudgeonly, but he’s not wrong when he quips (as he did in this newspaper yesterday), “Is it possible to be enthusiastic and disappointed at the same time? It’s a very mixed exercise. I’m pleased they’ve recognized the problems, but they’re not talking about changing any structures in the system.”

Still, maybe that’s asking too much at this early stage in the game. The Graham government’s five-year-plan “When Kids Come First” at least makes an honest attempt to articulate a raft of challenges that teachers and administrators have been complaining about for years, if not decades. And it does so in a neatly organized fashion that suggests that somebody actually sat down and thought about the issues seriously for a change.
Under the School Readiness commitment, for example, the government wants to “design and implement the I’m Ready to Learn initiative to prepare children for their entry into kindergarten . . . and develop school readiness kits to be sent to parents of children ages three to five.”

Under the “Engaging Communities” rubric, the Grits are determined to “implement the GO NB program to provide after-school, early morning or lunch-time physical activities . . . and work with other government departments to provide relevant community services through community school.”

As for literacy, numeracy and science, “we will launch the K-5 I Can Learn initiative to ensure kids acquire the basics in literacy, numeracy and science by the end of Grade 5 . . . add literacy tests in Grade 4 and numeracy tests in Grade 3 to better track student performance . . . and provide a minimum of $2 million per year in new resources to help struggling readers and challenge gifted students.”

But, perhaps, the plan’s most interesting and far-reaching commitments involve cultural and linguistic growth. The provincial government appears admirably dedicated to cutting through the political rhetoric and dealing directly with the hurdles that have hobbled the development of both English and French school systems in New Brunswick for far too long.

Among other things, it wants to review both English and French second language programming and “support second language experiences and exchanges for students; provide language training for new Canadians; review the challenges faced by the francophone sector; support linguistic and cultural identity building in the francophone sector; and develop and implement a First Nations education strategy.”

Less inspiring are the measures to encourage “innovation” within the teaching profession itself, if only because they remain all too fuzzily familiar. What does “establish an Innovative Learning Fund to invest in innovative projects that can be shared and replicated” really mean?

Meanwhile, the commitment to “mandate a Critical Thinking Team to ensure critical thinking components are reflected throughout the curriculum and evaluation mechanisms” seems vaguely reminiscent of every practicum ever written by graduating B.Ed. students in this and every province. Is it necessary to make policy around the precept that teachers should actually do their jobs?

Don’t educators already “think critically” when they instruct their young charges to do the same?

Ultimately, though, these are niggling complaints. Of all the documents the Graham government has released during its short tenure at the reigns of power in New Brunswick, this is, by far, the most promising. I might even accompany my letter grade with the comment, “shows marked improvement.”

Alec Bruce is a Moncton-based journalist and author. His column appears in the Times & Transcript every Tuesday and Thursday. He may be reached via