By Clyde Jackman
Allow me the opportunity to correct misinformation provided to the public by MHA Dale Kirby (NDP-St. John’s North) in a June 14 letter to the editor (“Time to make changes in education”).
First, the provincial government has not “dismissed the benefits” of full-day kindergarten. Never, ever have we indicated that.
What we have said is that we have an early childhood learning strategy for children up to age six, with an initial $4.8 million, three-year focus on the years from birth to age three.
While the implementation of full-day kindergarten would present challenges (e.g., lack of classroom space in many schools), we have never ruled it out and continue to explore the possibility.
Secondly, Mr. Kirby continues to refer to the new, needs-based teacher allocation model, established in 2008, as “flawed and outdated” even though its implementation has allowed Newfoundland and Labrador to boast a student-teacher ratio of 11.9 to one — the best of any province in Canada. That ratio is calculated the same way in every other jurisdiction in Canada, and so it is directly comparable.
The average student-teacher ratio in Canada is 14 to one.
Mr. Kirby continually fails to recognize that the new allocation model is based on need.
It makes special provision for small, rural schools and allows school districts to determine where specific resources are deployed — based on the needs of individual schools and students.
To suggest otherwise is false. Had this government followed the former teacher allocation model, there would be 820 fewer teachers in the system today. Instead, those teachers are deployed throughout our schools. For example, over 150 have been added to maintain K-9 class size caps, and there are more specialist teachers (e.g., music, physical education, French), and more numeracy teachers. Our average K-9 class size is now 17.9, as compared to 20.5 in 2005.
Finally, with respect to finding innovative ways to meet the needs of at-risk students, the record speaks for itself. Between 1996 and 2010, Newfoundland and Labrador experienced the largest decline in drop-out rates in Canada, dropping from 16.7 per cent (highest in the country) to 7.4 per cent (second lowest in the country). Today, we have a 91.7 per cent graduation rate, with more of our students graduating with honours or academic diplomas as opposed to a general diploma.
In addition to offering numerous school-based supports, supplementary exams and credit recovery programs for students experiencing academic difficulties, we have started a pilot we call Positive Actions for Student Success (PASS). PASS is designed to target disengaged youth who have either dropped out of school, or are at risk to do so.
Both groups are comprised of students with academic difficulties, often associated with poor attendance and personal/social issues.
There were 210 students — including 66 who had already left school — enrolled in the program from January to June 2011. I am pleased to report that 77 per cent of the students in this program who were eligible to graduate did so in June 2011. This is a very encouraging result for the first full year of the program.
All this to say — we recognize there will be challenges, but we must be doing something right. And we will continue to look, every day, for ways to improve education services throughout the province.
Clyde Jackman is the province’s
minister of education.