By: Melanie Holder and Matt Draper
STRAIT AREA: As teachers sat down with the provincial government to discuss proposed reforms to the education system, Strait area educators held meetings and organized protests last week.
On February 20, 93 per cent of Nova Scotia Teachers Union (NSTU) members participated in a vote with 82.5 per cent voting in favour of potential illegal job action if the government does not back down from its planned reforms. On the same night, a group of parents and teachers held a public meeting in Antigonish to discuss the changes.
“The big thing was that the government wasn’t having any public consultations, so we planned this event, and we invited the four MLAs in the Strait region, but they didn’t come,” said Moraig MacGillivray, who organized the meeting and represented the NDP in last spring’s provincial election.
The guest speaker was Grant Frost, who has worked as a teacher and education blogger and is currently the Halifax County local president for the NSTU. He outlined his concerns with the recent report by Dr. Avis Glaze on which the impending reforms are based.
Frost took issue with the data used to support the claim that Nova Scotia’s education system is failing students. He said that although Nova Scotian students scored below the national average overall, they out-performed many other provinces in a variety of areas. He noted that according to the Pan-Canadian Assessment Program referenced in the report, students in the province scored between 1.6 and four percentage points below the Canadian average in science, reading, and math. He questioned whether the gap is wide enough to justify the sweeping changes the government has proposed.
“Our system can improve, absolutely, but if you’re going to use these statistics to hold this up to the public and say, ‘this is why we should change the entire system,’ I think we should have a right to question them,” said Frost.
Frost believes that many of the report’s recommendations, such as the establishment of a provincial college of teachers will create an unnecessary level of bureaucracy and will not help students. Frost is also concerned about what the changes will mean for teachers’ contracts, and how this will impact Nova Scotia’s ability to attract and retain teachers.
“We operate under a series of regional agreements as teachers… With the amalgamation of these boards those contracts are going to change,” said Frost. “If you get to change the terms of the contract halfway through, then the contract doesn’t actually mean anything.”
On Saturday afternoon, around 85-100 Antigonish residents marched down Main Street as part of a rally against the proposed changes. Organizer Nicole Baden-Clay said she feels the teachers have had a loud and clear voice and now is the time for parents to rise up.
“We are the voting public and our voices do matter as well,” said Baden-Clay. “I think we are all very concerned about the democratic processes that are being eroded away by the decisions that are happening, for instance the removal of our school boards.”
Baden-Clay said there are some good points made in the Glaze report but she takes issue with the speed at which the report is being adopted. She said teachers want their voices heard when it comes to education reform. Baden-Clay also brought up the topic of school closures, noting she and others helped fight against the closure of H.M. MacDonald Elementary School.
“Who’s going to save those schools now,” she asked. “… Our school board members are the ones who voted on our behalf because they listened to our voice.”