Coalition wants pledge to create Manitoba office to ensure diversity, equality in education

A group that wants to see more diversity in Manitoba's school system is calling on the province to create a role dedicated to making that happen.

Equity Matters wants 3 provincial parties represented in legislature to sign a pledge to create new office

A number of children raise their hands in a classroom.
Equity Matters — a coalition of Indigenous, newcomer, racialized and community-based groups — wants the province to establish an education equity secretariat to oversee equity offices within school divisions throughout the province. (GagliardiPhotography/Shutterstock)

A group that wants to see more diversity in Manitoba's school system is calling on the province to create a role dedicated to making that happen.

Equity Matters — a coalition of Indigenous, newcomer, racialized and community-based groups — is pushing for greater representation in Manitoba's curriculum and educational staff.

Echoing a call made last fall, the group wants the province to establish an education equity secretariat — an office that Equity Matters said should be enshrined in the Public Schools Act and would oversee equity officers within Manitoba's schools.

With the new campaign announced Friday, the coalition hopes to put "a bit of fire to the feet" of Manitoba's political parties by asking them to sign a new pledge, a representative said.

"Equity Matters was formed with the belief that to improve education outcomes for all students, Indigenous and racialized students must see themselves better reflected in the curriculum and in all staff levels of the public education system," Jordan Bighorn, a parent representative with the Equity Matters co-ordinating committee, said at a press conference Friday morning.

Jordan Bighorn is a parent representative for Equity Matters. (Justin Fraser/CBC)

The group says Indigenous, newcomer and racialized people are underrepresented in all levels of the education system, and it wants to see changes at the institutional level to allow for change in classrooms.

"If we want to change our structure, we are going to rearrange the chairs to allow different voices, different faces, to be there at the table making those decisions," said Suni Matthews, a retired Winnipeg school principal and the co-chair of Equity Matters.

Matthews said it's important to look at who is making decisions in the province's education department, and to also look at who is not there. 

"Take a snapshot of who is at the table — who are the faces? Are they all faces that represent the various demographics within this city and within the province? We need to ask those questions."

The proposed secretariat would oversee research, policy development, curriculum guidelines, anti-racism training and support for schools to ensure equity for all students, between all schools.

Suni Matthews, co-chair of Equity Matters and a former educator, says new voices are needed to ensure diversity is represented at all levels of the education system. (Justin Fraser/CBC)

Equity Matters also wants the province to collect data that could help identify and monitor systemic racism within the education system, and wants it to create an accountability report card.

"Having very concrete data, then we can look at what to do to address it and to change that paradigm," said Matthews. 

The group pointed to data released by the Winnipeg School Division last year that showed the overrepresentation of Indigenous students in school suspensions as an example of how data could help guide educators.

That division also recently created an equity officer role.

The group wants to see a provincial secretariat established by the start of the 2023-24 school year.

Calls to sign pledge

Last month, each of the three provincial parties with sitting MLAs were sent a letter asking them to sign an Equity Matters pledge to demonstrate their support for establishing an equity in education secretariat.

The coalition will hold a pledge-signing press conference later this month to announce the responses of all three parties, Matthews said.

"It is our hope that all three will sign it — the present [Progressive Conservative] government and the NDP and the Liberals," she said.

The idea has the support of more than 80 groups, Matthews said, including the Manitoba Teachers' Society, five school boards within Winnipeg, the Manitoba Association of Superintendents and the Manitoba Association of Parent Councils.

Matthews said it's too soon to know what the potential costs might be in creating such a role, but that resources could be redirected to make it happen.

"If we truly mean that we want outcomes to be best for all students, so that they are all realizing their full potential … then yes, it's going to involve putting some dollars into an important initiative," she said.

"It can't just happen in a vacuum."