By Stephen Llewellyn
A dazzling vision but the academic devil, so to speak, will be in the details.
That seems to be the general reaction to Education Minister Kelly Lamrock’s education plan. When Kids Come First is the Liberal government’s blueprint to make New Brunswick’s education system the best in the world. It includes three goals, eight commitments, 23 benchmarks and 140 actions.
“What we’ve got in here is a bunch of wonderful, high sounding, warm and fuzzy sounding statements,” said Charles Cirtwill, acting president of the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies. “What really matters is what comes next.”
Cirtwill, author of the institute’s report card on Atlantic Canadian high schools, said the plan talks about accountability and openness but doesn’t release any figures on where the schools system stands now.
“They want 90 per cent reading by Grade 2, but how many are reaching that reading standard today?” he said. “Also, what about the other 10 per cent? If I was their parent, I would be awful worried.”
Cirtwill said there are a lot of statements in the plan about empowering teachers.
“But there are no statements about how we are going to do things differently,” he said. “What you see here is some hints at new directions and no real substance.”
“What I have seen so far gives me both hope and fear.” I
ndu Varma, president of the New Brunswick Teachers Association, said the plan has balance and vision.
“More importantly there has to be the commitment to make it work,” she said. “Over the years, we have lost phys-ed, arts, music, trades.
“It is good to see the return of those things.” Varma liked the way the plan talked about freeing up teachers and giving them the money and resources to be innovative and creative.
“The curriculum is the guideline for teachers,” she said. “The way you teach the curriculum, that is where the creativity comes in.
“A lot of the time teachers are restricted by the limited resources they have.” Lana Thompson, director of Autism Connection Fredericton, said the plan to train 100 teaching assistants and resource and methods teachers in applied behavioural analysis to help students with autism is a start. The plan is promising training for 400 people over four years.
Dawn Bowie, education representative for the Autism Society of New Brunswick, described her reaction to the plan as guarded optimism.
“Until I see the contract signed and the announcement made specifically I want to make sure,” Bowie said.
What makes her nervous is Education officials have talked about other substandard treatments that were cheaper, she said. Bowie said she likes the way the plan talks about students getting individual needs assessed before going into high school and then again before graduating.
“I loved that flexibility,” said Bowie. “That is something I have never seen in the education system before.”
“I love the vision but we have to make sure we keep their feet to the fire and do it properly.” Opposition Education critic Madeleine Dube said Lamrock’s plan is just a rebranding of the former Tory government’s Quality Learning Agenda.
“What I am pleased with is it is following a lot of our QLA. There are a lot of initiatives that are already in place. The ministerial committee is already announced,” Dube said the Opposition agrees with a lot of the goals in the education plan.
“But certainly he doesn’t have a clearcut plan with deadlines established like they promised,” she said. “A lot is missing.”
Dube said she also doesn’t like the idea of schools competing for resources. Some schools in richer areas will have an advantage over some schools in rural areas, she said.
“We are really, really concerned about that,” said Dube. “Those schools with certain problems, what is going to happen to them? That is not helping our kids.”