Promises and performance: Education

The Island's future hinges on improvements to the education system, Liberal Leader Robert Ghiz said during the 2007 election campaign.

Promises and Performance

The Island's future hinges on improvements to the education system, Liberal Leader Robert Ghiz said during the 2007 election campaign.

Post-secondary education was a key plank in the Liberal platform. (CBC)

It was in the area of post-secondary education that Ghiz made one of his most specific promises.

"We are proposing a new beginning education program, which will provide a one-time grant to any full-time Island student entering the University of Prince Edward Island of $2,000," Ghiz said at a news conference on May 14, 2007.

"There will also be a comparable program for those entering Holland College in applied arts, trades and technology programs. The new Liberal team believes this will be an added incentive to young Islanders to enter university and to help concentrate on academic matters instead of worrying about the cost associated with it."

Ghiz said at that news conference that without oil or timber or valuable minerals, the people of Prince Edward Island remained as its greatest resource. It was, therefore, important to encourage Islanders to make the most of the educational opportunities available to them.

The "beginning education program" became the George Coles Bursary in September 2008. In the three years since the implementation of the program 2,827 Island students have received it at a cost of $5.4 million.

It is difficult to determine how many students may be continuing their studies because of the George Coles Bursary. We can say that enrolment of Islanders at UPEI is up, from 2,838 in 2007 to 3,006 in 2010.

While Ghiz fully realized his promise for first-year students, those finishing up their degrees were not so lucky.

Breakfast program

A promise to implement a province-wide breakfast program remains incomplete. There are now 49 programs at 63 schools.

The promise the Liberals made to fourth year students was not so specific and came with a caveat. Ghiz said he would reduce or eliminate the cost of tuition for students in their fourth year of full-time studies on P.E.I., but only if provincial finances permited.

The premier's office now says that plan was just too expensive. Even at the time, Liberal insiders told CBC News it was highly unlikely it would happen.

Best Start

The Liberal campaign also focused on the other end of the educational spectrum, pre-school.

Robert Ghiz made education promises for everyone from toddlers to students preparing for university graduation. (CBC)

Ghiz said his party would expand the help offered to the parents of young children through the Best Start program. Best Start was at the time offering in-home support program for parents of children aged up to 18 months.

"Effective early learning and child care services are critical building blocks in the lives of our children," read the Liberal campaign literature.

"What happens in the first few year of a child's life can have a profound impact on their emotional and intellectual development."

Teacher salaries

In 2009 pay for teachers reached the average in Atlantic Canada as promised.

The party pledged to expand the Best Start program to cover children up to the age of three. Also on the early childhood education front, it promised to set aside $1 million to boost the wages of early childhood educators, to promote recruitment and retention.

The fund to improve educator salaries became a reality, but the expansion of the Best Start program was limited to the age of two.

Class sizes

The Liberals' concern for the young during the 2007 campaign did not stop at pre-school.

Olive Crane addressed the Liberal promise to lower classes sizes. (Province of P.E.I.)

"Overcrowding remains an unacceptable reality in far too many classrooms," read the Liberal pamphlet on education.

"We need to increase the resources in our classrooms in order to enhance the educational opportunities of our children."

The first step in that, said the Liberals, was reducing class sizes, and the party promised to legislate a maximum class size for grades one to three to 15. That legislation never appeared, but the province says class sizes have been reduced from an average of 20 before the election to 17.

Class size became an issue for Progressive Conservative Leader Olive Crane during the last session of the legislature.

Classroom supplies

The tax exemption for teachers buying classroom supplies remains at $500, despite a promise to raise it to $1,000.

Crane said she was getting calls from kindergarten teachers who had heard class sizes were increasing, and feared for their jobs, because with larger classes size you don't need as many teachers. Crane heard as many as four positions would be eliminated.

"The kindergarten teachers that have been hearing from their principals this week, they are really worried and for whatever reason they do not trust this government," said Crane.

Making reference to the class size pledge from the 2007 campaign, Crane called it a broken promise.

Kindergarten in the schools

Technically there was no promise broken over kindergarten class sizes, because kindergarten was not an issue in the 2007 campaign.

Standardized testing

The Liberals promised to end standardized testing until school funding reached average national levels, but standardized testing continues.

At the time it was not part of the public school system. Since it was introduced in 2000 kindergarten had been offered by private business, who delivered a provincial curriculum and were provided a government subsidy.

There was no talk of changing that in 2007, but in what was the biggest change to the school system during the Liberal mandate, the government moved kindergarten students into the schools in September 2010.

The most contentious issue in education since 2007 was also not discussed during the campaign: school closures.

The province closed eight schools in the Eastern School District in order to deal with declining enrolment.

There was a bitter debate on the issue at the school board level, and the divisions created were never resolved. The board became dysfunctional and Education Minister Doug Currie dissolved it earlier this year. He appointed a single trustee to take on the work of the board until the next scheduled election in June 2012.