Blog | January 10, 2012

By Andrea Sands, edmontonjournal.comEDMONTON—Albertans will see immediate improvements to the education system that include shorter student bus rides, more chances to earn post-secondary credits in high school and schools built alongside playgrounds and community facilities, Alberta education minister says.Thomas Lukaszuk announced the government’s 10-point plan for education Tuesday morning in front of students and staff in the library at Dunluce Elementary School, at 11735 162nd Ave.“The 10-point plan can be delivered and will be delivered starting right now,” Lukaszuk said later.“We don’t need to sit on our hands and wait till Bill 18 (the Education Act) passes to start acting, so I identified a number of issues that were raised by stakeholders — parents, students, teachers and others — that can be delivered under current legislation.”The government will immediately launch 10 initiatives as it drafts new legislation to govern Alberta’s education system. Alberta Education just finished its most recent round of public consultations about the Education Act. It is now analyzing approximately 3,000 responses. The government plans to introduce the Education Act in the legislature this spring to replace the School Act, in place since 1988.The 10 initiatives include an effort to shorten school bus rides for students who are on the bus more than an hour, Lukaszuk told his audience of elementary students. “That may include changing the routes that the buses take.“That may include collaboration between several school boards in using one transportation system so they all don’t run their own separate systems. That may include changing the sizes of buses.”The government will also test new technology on some buses to see if students can make better use of their travel time to get homework and assignments done.“Who knows? Maybe you can even write a test on a bus, or maybe you can have a lesson delivered to you on a bus,” Lukaszuk said.The government will also create more opportunity for high-school students to earn post-secondary credits. It will develop a dual-credit strategy provincewide to help school boards deliver those opportunities. “So when they get to Grade 12 and they have already earned credits, it’s more likely they will continue going to school after Grade 12,” Lukaszuk said.The government will look at changing the way schools are designed so new schools are built to support a community’s needs. That might mean building a school with a community league attached, or a health centre or public library, Lukaszuk said.The province also needs a better process that will ensure schools are built with playgrounds, which are essential to children’s health, he said. Some schools wait decades before a playground is built, Lukaszuk said.Details about the initiatives will be announced in the coming weeks, he said.Lukaszuk didn’t say how much the 10 initiatives would cost, but noted the work could result in education delivered more efficiently.Parent Troy Locke, whose twins are in Grade 4 at Dunluce school, said Lukaszuk’s plan was encouraging. As a soccer coach, Locke said he particularly liked the idea of designing schools to serve community needs, as well as plans to build technology into buses.“So many schools now offer mobile laptops or netbooks and they use something called SchoolZone,” said Locke, 37, treasurer with the Dunluce’s parent council.“If students can log into and use SchoolZone and complete an assignment or practise their spelling words before they actually get home, it increases family time in the evening.”However, the executive director of Public Interest Alberta called the plans “baby steps” that don’t go far enough.“We’ve known for years that there are serious problems in education. A lot of them have been created by this very government,” Bill Moore-Kilgannon said. “If you’re talking about kids on buses riding for over an hour and a half, ask the minister why a lot of rural schools have been shut down over the last 10 years. Putting Wi-Fi on buses, how much is that going to cost at the end of the day…so maybe kids will do their homework, but maybe kids will play video games.”---Under the 10-point plan, the government will start work immediately to:— reduce travel time for students who spend more than an hour on the school bus and add technology such as wireless Internet service so students can work during bus trips.— offer more opportunity for students to earn post-secondary credits in high school.— update school design to better support communities, so new schools would include community facilities such as public libraries, health centres or community centres.— make sure playgrounds are built when new schools go up.— reduce the administrative burden for charter schools, such as a requirement they be approved again every five years, which can prevent schools from entering long-term leases and infrastructure agreements.— improve education for First Nations students by working with the federal government and getting rid of some jurisdictional barriers.— improve the transparency, clarity and accountability of the education system so information is more accessible and user friendly for parents.— give parents a stronger voice in the education system.— launch a review of provincial achievement tests including Grade 12 diploma exams.— launch a review of full-day kindergarten and how it could be implemented.By Andrea Sands, [email protected]/Ansands

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