You asked for it, friends, so here it is: my take on the province’s green paper, Succeeding at Home, the Government of New Brunswick’s latest education review. Consider this your cheat sheet before the education summit being held in Fredericton October 16-18, 2019, and the reports and changes that will follow that.
The very basic details:
- Succeeding at Home was published in early October 2019.
- Technically it’s a ‘green paper,’ which offers “a range of ideas and policies … [and] specific actions.” (Any quotations I provide will be from the report, unless otherwise noted.)
- It’s 23 pages long and available online. (I actually found it well-written and quite engaging to read, and it’s really only the first 10 pages you need to get through; the rest is glossary, data, etc.)
- The paper often reminds readers that input is welcome at EECD-EDPE@gnb.ca. It also notes that “Readers who do not agree with the material presented here, or who want to highlight areas they feel are important that were not included, can submit their ideas … by October 15th, 2019.” Whether you agree or not, I urge you to take the time to share your thoughts. That’s what democracy is all about, right?!
- Media coverage has basically focused on one idea: that children in grades Kindergarten through Grade Two would face a new classroom model for the 2020-2021 school year, in which they are grouped based on ability, not age. This is only part of the paper, though!
- Education Minister Dominic Cardy followed up releasing the paper with a Facebook Live chat on October 7, 2019, encouraging everyone to text, call, or email him with their feedback. firstname.lastname@example.org or 506-238-5550. He shares that message in the paper, too. Again, I urge you to take him up on that offer and let him know what you think!
Need some more information to know what you think? Let’s get to it, then!
If I had to choose one line from the entire paper to sum it up: “We must change the narrative around the importance of education and its ability to transform individual lives and our province.”
I completely agree with that statement. In fact, a lot of what’s in this green paper echoes many of the ideas I’ve shared with you over the past few years here. That we are, in fact, doing okay when it comes to education rankings internationally. That we can of course do better. That early years learning needs to be adjusted. And that the reason for doing all of this is about much more than just test scores. It’s about creating a future for our province by ensuring our children have a sense of pride in themselves and this place, as well as a love for learning.
“Your government wants education to be at the centre of everything New Brunswick does … Education is the most important thing we do together, as a province. Over the first eighteen years of their lives, guided by their parents, school, family and community, children become New Brunswickers. A big part of what that means depends on the school system: The values we pass along and the example we set.”
I couldn’t agree more! I firmly believe that the key to increasing the population of this province lies in our ability to showcase our pride in the people and products that have been created here, and that we must cultivate this from the earliest age.
I also agree with this statement: “We don’t know how many more democratic institutions are going to be undermined and attacked by forces that deny evidence, fact, and reason. We do know those attacks will continue, and that training in critical thinking and civics is the only response … We don’t know how many low-skill jobs are going to disappear with the rise of automation and advances in artificial intelligence. We do know jobs will disappear, and that we need students skilled in trades and in building, managing, and maintaining the technology that will do more and more for all of us.”
Hear, hear! To me, these are good foundations on which to revisit our approach to education. But you didn’t come to read all my opinions again; you want the details.
Here are SOME of the action items and ideas in the document that I think you want to know, broken into a few categories.
The process ideas:
- The government wants to amend the current Education Act to ensure it is fully reviewed every ten years.
- It wants to stabilize education funding through multi-year budgeting.
- There would be a review of the “mandate and structure of the department, school districts, and the DECs.”
- Principals should be given “more control over their schools.”
- “Government believes in decentralization and empowering local schools. The department should set and enforce provincial standards while other decisions should be delegated to the school level whenever possible.”
- Expect provincial guidelines on appropriate use of technology (smartphones, etc.), as well as acquisition.
- Students are feeling overwhelmed, with increasing mental health challenges and a shortage of professionals to help. Cross-departmental recommendations to address this are called for in the next six months.
- Expect more focus on attendance; increased follow-up for missed time and “tools to increase student engagement.”
The curriculum ideas:
- A civics program will be created.
- The International Baccalaureate program will be expanded in both the Anglophone and Francophone systems.
- There may be “incentives for community and business leaders to support the public school system” through apprenticeships or other ideas.
- Partnerships with the private sector and the provincial community colleges could be leveraged to “expand the availability of physical and virtual learning environments.”
- Noting that early childhood education benefits a child’s learning as well as a parent’s ability to remain in the workforce, the government will “expand and improve the current early childhood education systems” and “improve the quality of training and ongoing professional development” for providers.
Now, for that non-traditional classroom idea.
It’s not a new idea in the world, or even in New Brunswick. The idea is to shift from “grade levels that reflect [students’] ages” to “flexibility in grouping and regrouping students according to their individual talents, interests, and learning requirements,” starting with the traditional kindergarten, Grade One, and Grade Two levels.
- This will begin in the 2020-2021 school year based on “proposals submitted by interested school staff.”
- These flexible learning environments would be “sustaining an inclusive classroom environment.”
- All elementary schools would be following this model within five years, with it expanding to middle and high schools.
- “Government will evaluate artificial intelligence tools to assist in student assessments, which will focus on recognition of what new skills have been acquired following periods of instruction. Assessments will support teachers in improving their skills and demonstrate the progress of each student. This will allow consistent appraisal of students across the province, based on demonstrated capacity.”
- This method “will end the policy of social promotion.”
- “Artificial intelligence tools will be evaluated by government to help develop ongoing assessment tools, moving us towards a fully personalized education for each student that will reduce the workload for teachers. Personalization does not mean one-on-one instruction, a real concern for teachers already struggling with often excessive demands on their time.”
And more for teachers:
- “New Brunswick has many highly trained and motivated teachers but they need to be given the freedom to use and share their expertise with a minimum of political and bureaucratic interference.”
- The Government plans to “remove restrictions on teachers speaking publically about their work.”
- Government also plans to help “protect teachers from excessive demands on their time” communicating with parents without negatively impacting communication.
- There will be a “policy of zero tolerance for the physical abuse of any adult in the classroom.”
- Until a “longer term response is developed” the government says it is “committed to putting additional resources in classrooms where composition issues are hurting the educational outcomes.”
- Universities will be approached to “ensure teaching programs reflect best practices and prepare student teachers” for changing classroom models.
- “New Brunswick has a dual education system, with an Anglophone deputy minister and a Francophone deputy minister each reporting to a single minister. Government supports this structure.”
- The current French Immersion system in the Anglophone districts has “created a negative situation” of streaming children with learning and behavioural challenges into non-immersion classrooms, which is “inherently unfair.”
- The Francophone education system has been successful in “strengthening the culture, history and language of Acadians and Francophones” and this model should be applied to the Anglophone districts. The government is asking for ideas on how this could be accomplished.
- Historical and cultural contributions of First Nation People is being “embedded throughout the K-12 educational system.” Mi’kmaq, Passamaquoddy, and Wolastoqey languages courses will be expanded.
- Over the next two years, early childhood educators will be supported to introduce play-based approaches to language learning.
- “Government will ensure that all students will achieve, at a minimum, conversational proficiency in both official languages by the time they graduate from high school.”
Remember when I said we weren’t doing so bad, and that this report highlights our successes? Here are a few thoughts to leave you with.
- “New Brunswick is an educational leader on the Canadian and world stage.”
- “Our province is highly regarded for our leadership in inclusive education, safe and positive learning environments, global competencies and international education.”
- “Many New Brunswick teachers have won international awards and acclaim for their innovative classroom approaches.”
- “New Brunswick recently led the Canadian delegation to the G7 Education and Innovation Conference in Paris and the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development Goals at the United Nations in New York, and the International Forum in Inclusion and Equity in Education in Colombia.”
- “Atlantic Education International (AEI) has, for 22 years, sold all or elements of the New Brunswick curriculum to schools in six countries.”
- “Since 2011, AEI’s over $31 million dollars in profits have been reinvested in our education system through grants to schools and school districts, payments to homestay families and coordinators, and contributions to provincial revenues. AEI is a self-sustaining entity which does not rely on any government funding to cover its operations.”
- The Government will work to expand on this and other successes, as well as creating “standards to allow private schools in New Brunswick to use the New Brunswick curriculum and to award New Brunswick diplomas.”
So, that’s a 1,500-word version of a more than 5,000-word government paper (not counting all the pages of definitions and data). Personally, I’m enthusiastically optimistic after reading this green paper. I think it’s a great sequel to a lot of what I liked about the previous education plan. It’s going to a massive shift and my only real concern is that if it’s done without the proper resources and supports for our educators, it will be condemned before it’s given a chance. This green paper doesn’t offer all the answers as to how these changes, particularly the big ones, will unfold – and some of those big changes are coming very soon. I potentially have two students who could be in a flexible setting next fall. So I am worried, as well, but I want this to work. We need big, bold moves that will continue to place us at the forefront of education – not because we need to impress anyone else, but because we owe that to our children and to the future of our province.
Some of my previous writing on the topics covered in the Government of New Brunswick’s green paper on education, Succeeding at Home.