Nfld. & Labrador

Education report promising, but success depends on resources, says teachers' union

Jim Dinn says many of the 82 recommendations are good in theory, but teacher-student ratios are ultimately the key to improving educational outcomes.

NLTA's Jim Dinn says student-teacher ratios ultimately will decide how students learn

Jim Dinn, is the president of the Salmonid Association of Eastern Newfoundland. (Paula Gale/CBC)

The head of Newfoundland and Labrador's Teachers' Association says a recent report on the province's education system reflects what he's been hearing from his members, but the real substance will be in how the recommendations are implemented.

Premier Dwight Ball released the completed Task Force Report on Improving Educational Outcomes on Tuesday, saying his government plans to start acting on the 82 recommendations in 2018.

The long list of recommended changes centre around inclusive education, the current math and reading curriculums, student mental health, teacher professional development and more.

Jim Dinn, president of the teachers' union, said the report addresses issues that have been raised by teachers for years, but the real challenge will now be bringing all the right people together to change things for the better.

The premier's task force on education presented 82 recommendations that ranged from overhauling inclusive education to addressing student mental health and well being. (CBC)

"It's a big challenge but it's going to require all partners," he told CBC Radio's St. John's Morning Show.

"It takes a village to raise a child, and it takes a community and a province to make an education system work."

Inclusive education

When it comes to the inclusive education component, the task force report recommended an overhaul of the approach which has often been criticized by teachers who say more resources are needed.

Dinn said the problem over the last few years isn't that people necessarily disagreed with the actual philosophy behind inclusion, but there was a feeling that they were just not equipped to properly manage an inclusive classroom.

"In my four years as president I will tell you I have yet to meet a teacher that they oppose inclusive education. The frustration for them is the inability to help the students in their care," he said.

If you increase the time in one subject area, it's coming from somewhere else.- Jim Dinn

"I've been in schools where they've been noted for their inclusive education practices. Go back the next year and they've had a lot of the resources gutted, and they're struggling."

It's a bit overwhelming to cover all 82 recommendation in one interview, Dinn said, but the most important point he wants to stress is that ultimately the ability or inability to implement any of the task force's ideas will come down to the workload and class sizes that teachers have to contend with.

Government can give teachers all the professional development they want, but if they have a large class of varied students and little support to deal with them all, then it's going to be a challenge to deliver proper education — no matter how well thought out the policies of the education system are.

"You cannot talk about diverse needs or student behaviour in the classroom without looking at the composition of that classroom," he said.

"You cannot talk about the fact of having small group settings without realizing that that's going to mean you will have to increase the numebr of teachers in the system."

Flexibility with teaching math

The task force report also heavily focused on the need for changes to the current math and reading curriculums in the province, including ending current standardized provincial assessments.

Jim Dinn says addressing class sizes and composition is key to any improvement to educational outcomes. (Syda Productions/Shutterstock)

Dinn said requiring all students to use the exact same strategies for solving a math problem completely went against what teachers were told about inclusive education.

Instead, he said allowing educators more flexibility to teach and accept different ways of learning and how students show their work will benefit for everyone involved.

"It's a system that's based on diverse instruction, and differentiated instruction, yet we focus on that one marker, and one marker only," he said.

"If you have a class that of students that are doing well in math, how many strategies do you need? They've obviously already mastered the skill."

Dinn said he does have concerns about the recommendation to increase the amount of time spent on math by 20 per cent, and has questions about what courses will suffer to make up that extra time.

"If you increase the time in one subject area, it's coming from somewhere else," he said. "There are other subject areas that are important."

With files from the St. John's Morning Show