Nfld. & Labrador

'Clear trends': Education task force hears complaints on inclusion, resources and more

Complaints about the education system have been consistent across the province, said the chairperson of the Premier's task force on education.

'His words mean nothing to me,' teacher says of education minister's comments

Dr. Alice Collins said the premier's task force on education has seen clear trends. (Gary Locke/CBC)

A mother expressed concern for her son with autism. Another for a child with dyslexia. An LGTB rights advocate championed for inclusion to be more inclusive. Teachers showed frustration.

Those were some of the ten voices heard in St. John's on Thursday night during a public consultation with the Premier's Task Force on Educational Outcomes.

After the meeting came to a close, task force chairperson Dr. Alice Collins was asked what she has noticed during their eight public sessions thus far.

"We've seen clear trends," she said.

When asked what they were, she said it would be irresponsible to divulge more before the team wraps up its provincial tour of 10 public consultations, as well as student and teacher forums.

"But just look around us here tonight," she said, motioning to the seats.

Familiar complaints

Each speaker was given five minutes to present their concerns to the task force that's made up of five educators with PhDs. The task force is commissioned with shaping the province's educational plan for the next decade.

Christine Rowe, a junior high French immersion teacher, didn't plan on speaking but became inspired as more and more people aired their grievances.

Rowe holds a master's degree in education, teaches math and has a son with a learning disability.

She looked to her left, directly at Collins, and said the three biggest problems with the education system are holes in teacher education, an overly complicated math curriculum and shortcomings with inclusive education.

Rowe placed her son in the local Francophone school, under the province's French-language school board, and saw dramatic changes after his dyslexia diagnosis.

Christine Rowe, a French immersion teacher, addressed the task force with her concerns as a parent and teacher. (CBC)

"There are smaller classrooms and a smaller school size," she said. "They have time to work with him there on a smaller group basis, which I think makes a huge, huge difference."

She works in an English school, however, and does not have the same resources as her son's teachers.

"I hope [the task force] realizes that teachers are treading water and drowning fast," she said. "We need to be trained but we also need to have help, support within the classroom, our administration and the school board."

Resources, diversity, free time

After Rowe spoke, an instructional resource teacher stood up and approached the podium.

"Half of my time is spent with an autistic child because of safety issues," she said. "I still have 15 other programs I am supposed to teach."

She recommended the task force do something about special needs assessments, which the province does around the third grade level. Assessments are often backlogged, and the wait times are leading to students going undiagnosed, she said. She added that because instructional resource teachers are allocated based on the number of children with special needs, schools end up understaffed and she becomes overworked.

Noah Davis Power asked the task force to consider improving inclusion for the LGTB community. (CBC)

Noah Davis Power, an LGTB activist, suggested inclusive education does not go far enough to include students from the LGTB community.

Solutions can be as simple as including a same sex couple in a mathematics word problem, he said, or more in-depth approaches like teaching LGTB culture, art and history.

Other recommendations included more play time for kids, more prep time for teachers and better alternative methods for special needs students.

Not buying talk from Kirby, teacher says

When asked what she thought of Education Minister Dale Kirby's comments to CBC News on Wednesday, Rowe said she doesn't put much stock into what the minister says.

Teachers were a fan of Kirby when he was a member of the opposition, she said, but her opinion changed when the last budget stripped millions of dollars from education.

Kirby told CBC News he would not allow class sizes to increase again "Over his dead body." The next morning, he issued a clarification, saying he meant he would not allow the teacher allocation model to change.

Dale Kirby says further cuts to teachers will happen "over his dead body"

6 years ago
Duration 0:17
Education Minister takes questions from CBC's Anthony Germain after the province announces it will be cutting nearly 300 public sector positions.

Either way, Rowe isn't buying it.

"As soon as he became the minister of education, he did a complete 180," she said. "His words mean nothing to me until he shows us he is actually going to stick to that."


Ryan Cooke is a journalist in St. John's.