Preliminary points for upcoming Alberta Education Act receives criticism
By Ben Proulx, Sherwood Park NewsThe provincial government's search to gain Albertans' input on the new Education Act has come to a close, with thousands of Albertans responding to the call, and sharing their ideas in recent consultations about education.Input received will form the basis for the future legislation and prompted the development of a 10-point plan for Alberta's education system, according to the provincial government."Parents, teachers, students and other have given me two types of advice: philosophical approaches that are best addressed in legislation, and practical solutions to the challenges students face every day," Education Minister Thomas Lukaszuk said. "Legislation will come forward in the spring, and work on practical steps will begin immediately."The consultations saw a total of 1,130 Albertan participants throughout the seven full-day consultations, as well as through five Speak Out student forums held. It also saw online input."Our intent for the consultation was to hear from those who may not have had an opportunity to share their vision for the Alberta education system," Lukaszuk said."The feedback from parents, students and teachers leaves me no doubt that this review was the right thing to do."The input is now being analyzed, and will be considered during the drafting of the new legislation to govern the province's education system, which will be introduced in the legislature in the spring."The quality of the input was remarkable and the ideas generated from this consultation will shape a revised bill that reflects the innovation and leadership Albertans expect from their education system," Lukaszuk said.While details are yet to be released, a basic framework of some of the 10-point plan has been released by the province:• Reducing travel time for students who spend more than one hour on a bus, and enabling students to better use technology when they travel;• Creating more opportunities for students to earn credits in high school and post-secondary at the same time;• Updating school design specifications to better support communities;• Co-ordinating building playgrounds and new schools.Other parts of the 10-point plan are:• Reducing the administrative burden for charter schools;• Supporting First Nations students by working more closely with the federal government;• Creating a stronger voice for parents in the education system;• Providing better information to increase the transparency, clarity and accountability of the education system;• Reviewing Provincial Achievement Tests;• Examining the operational requirements of full-day kindergarten."Albertans want the best possible learning opportunities and experiences for our students," Lukaszuk said. "Government's commitment to revised legislation and this 10-point plan will make a real difference for students today and into the future."While it is yet to be seen if that will hold true, the government is already facing critics of the 10-point plan, with Public Interest Alberta (PIA) — a provincial advocacy board — claiming the plan is not an effective action plan."(Lukaszuk's) new 10-point plan for education is more than a disappointment," said Larry Booi, chairperson of PIA. "It's actually a step sideways, rather than forward, at a time when we really need clear actions on education in this province."Booi said the 10 areas mentioned are in some cases important, but no effective actions are suggested, including the question of whether kindergarten should be a full-day endeavor. A review of Provincial Achievement Testing was another area criticized by Booi, as well as the notion of seeking a stronger voice for parents, with Booi saying both are simply masks and that nothing real will be done.Bill Moore-Kilgannon, executive director of PIA, said Lukaszuk wasted an opportunity to make a difference in education."We've had two years of extremely extensive and effective consultation under previous minister Dave Hancock, which PIA fully supported," he said. "We were disappointed when minister Lukaszuk chose to launch yet another consultation in the fall after becoming minister, and now his 10-point plan essentially calls for more of the same."Moore-Kilgannon added that, in the near future, PIA will release a proposal for action in five areas they feel will make the biggest difference for Alberta's education system.Not all agree that Lukaszuk's search for further information before forming the upcoming Education Act was a bad thing. When the search for input began, Tony Sykora, chairperson of the Elk Island Catholic Schools board of trustees, said he understood the need for further evaluation."When the new premier was elected through the leadership process, she appointed a new cabinet, which is, in my opinion, significantly different from the players that we've seen in the past," he said. "We've got a brand new education minister who really wants to get in tune with what this proposed act is. I talked to him last week and his very direct take is that, when you put a piece of legislation of this magnitude into effect, it's likely that piece of legislation is going to be there for 10, 15, maybe even 20 years. You want to take the opportunity to get it right."Sykora added that before Lukaszuk launched the second public inquiry, there were areas in the proposed Education Act that certain school districts, administrators and the general public may have been concerned about.By Ben Proulx, Sherwood Park Newsben@sherwoodparknews.comtwitter.com/Ben_ProulxThis article was published in the Sherwood Park News on January 13, 2012. Read the full article on the Sherwood Park news website.