Back to Basics

Mark Smith WildroseAs students go back to school across the province, I am looking at the current state of our education system and shaking my head.

As a teacher with 30 years of experience and an MLA, I would like to offer some advice to Alberta’s new Education Minister, David Eggen. When in doubt, you need to get back to the basics.

In all facets of life, you can’t be successful without first learning the fundamentals. The same goes for our education system: our students can’t succeed without first learning the basics to build off of and send them on the right path. Unfortunately, with Alberta’s new education curriculum, these basics of education are now being threatened.

Since 2009, former PC Education Ministers, the leaders of our province’s education system, have developed a new playbook, Inspiring Education, which has minimal structure and loses focus on the fundamentals of education.

This new playbook has Alberta’s education team on a losing streak, with our position on national and international rankings rapidly slipping from the admirable leading position we once held.

When you and I were in school, the focus was on learning the basics that would prepare us for life: reading, writing, and arithmetic. Instead of these basics, the focus in schools is now on expecting students to become the ‘3Es’: Engaged thinkers, ethical citizens, and entrepreneurial spirits.

How will that help students to balance a chequebook, prepare for post-secondary education, or read a novel?

Since being appointed by Wildrose Leader Brian Jean as our caucus’ Education Shadow Minister in May of this year, I have traveled across the province, meeting with stakeholders to hear directly from the source how these changes to the education system are impacting teachers directly in their classrooms.

The feedback is not pretty.

There is total confusion about how to teach this vague curriculum, and an experimental agenda will only serve to hurt our students’ educational experience. Inspiring Education includes policies you have likely heard about in a negative way in the news; a no-zero policy, ‘new math’ that doesn’t teach the fundamentals like multiplication tables, and flex time that gives our students a free pass when they should be in the classroom.

And on top of everything else, there is a brand new, unproven scoring system being imposed in our province. The tried and true Provincial Achievement Tests are being replaced by Student Learner Assessments in Grade 3.  The pilot last year was an abysmal failure, with major delays in even reporting the results, so now parents and teachers of grade 3 students have no idea how their students are doing.

Our current minister, David Eggen inherited this fiasco. Yet he can turn our education system around and undo the damage of the past 5 years.  He needs to get back to basics; to allow teachers to use their own judgment about how to teach, and to listen to the parents who know their children best.

I can promise you that Wildrose will continue to stand up for students, and will press to once again make Alberta’s education system the envy of our country, and indeed, the world.

Mark Smith is the Wildrose Official Opposition Education Shadow Minister and the MLA for Drayton Valley–Devon