Advisory councils are useless without the authority and funding to make good on their recommendations
This article was originally published on March 30, 2022.
I am excited to say that I finally received a response letter from our Minister of Education. The letter essentially thanked me and pointed me to the ministry’s website, but it’s better than being ignored.
In the letter, Minister Ewasko reminded me of two advisory councils the Manitoba government established in 2021.
Except we already had an entire Commission on K-12 Education back in 2020, and the government has mostly ignored the extensive and thorough recommendations that were made two years ago.
That commission put out a public discussion paper which was 180 pages long and outlined very specific action items, summarized nicely in a list of 10 recommendations.
What is the point of these commissions and councils if they get together for meetings, write some papers, then those papers gather dust (or proverbial Internet dust)?
This is not to disparage the work of the members of these councils — why would they want to put in so much time and effort for naught?
If the government is going to recruit people for these roles, expecting them to spend time contributing their input and expertise, there had better be a plan in place for follow-through.
So without further ado, I share with you my response letter.
MLA Wayne Ewasko, Minister of Education
Room 168, Legislative Building
Winnipeg MB R3C 0V8
March 30, 2022
Dear Mr. Ewasko,
Thank you for responding to my letter of February 1, I can imagine it has likely been a very busy first two months in your new role as Minister of Education.
I appreciate you taking the time to respond personally to some of my concerns, and I am glad to know that concerns from Manitoban parents will be shared with the advisory council.
I was indeed aware of the councils the government of Manitoba established in 2021. I am wondering what funds the Manitoba government has set aside to meet the recommendations that come from these councils and from its previous community consultation?
There were extensive and thorough recommendations made in the Report of the Commission on K to 12 Education only two years ago, in March 2020, and little progress has been made toward meeting any of those targets.
In particular, I wish to remind the Minister’s office of three recommendations related to equity and inclusion, which were as follows:
- Ensure that teacher preparation programs and ongoing professional learning reflect the provincial philosophy of inclusion and develop all teachers in practices to support students with diverse capabilities and learning needs.
- Strengthen requirements for and training of educational assistants and of student services staff to address, to the greatest extent possible, the learning and behavioural needs of students and to provide overall classroom support for teachers.
- Commit to reducing wait times for identifying and assessing students with special needs so that they receive early intervention and the necessary supports in all areas of the province.
As a result of recent cuts to funding, our school division has announced a reduced budget for professional development, reduced hours for education assistants, and reduced hours for divisional social workers.
Approximately three years ago, one of our two division’s school psychologists resigned. Rather than hire a second school psychologist, the division created a different position. They have hired a behaviour analyst, someone with much less training and no qualifications to complete assessments for the long list of students waiting for much-needed psycho-educational assessments.
Prior to the second psychologist resigning, the waitlist was approximately 6–8 months long. Over the past three years, the waitlist has grown to a nearly 2-year wait for assessment, forcing families to either pay out-of-pocket for private assessments, or leave their children to struggle with unidentified learning disabilities and neurodevelopmental disorders.
Further, behavioural analysis has long since been proven more harmful than beneficial for students. Not only has our division changed this position has a cost-savings measure, they’ve also moved backwards in terms of providing evidence-based, progressive, child-centred supports for students.
All this to ask, what purpose do these advisory councils serve if the school divisions will not have the resources and funding to carry out their recommendations? What plan does the Manitoba government have to ensure our children will actually benefit from the work of these councils?
With all due respect, Minster Ewasko, given the current state of public education in Manitoba, we need a lot more than perfunctory councils to feel a sense of optimism about our children’s education.
I look forward to hearing the provincial government’s concrete plans for implementing the recommendations from these councils and would be very interested in scheduling a virtual meeting to discuss further.
Jillian Enright, CYW, BA Psych.
Child Advocate, Neurodiversity Manitoba
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An Open Letter To Our Minister Of Education