The first leaders debate of the election campaign that has yet to begin focused on education and the relative success of Manitoba's system. Manitoba's graduation rate, at about 80 per cent, is comparatively low in Canada and the opposition parties say that will change if they're in power.
All three leaders made promises designed to get support of the teachers' union, among the largest in the province. Premier Greg Selinger and Tory Leader Hugh McFadyen said the issue was class size and pledged to cut the number of students in the class, theoretically to give teachers more time to spend with each student. Mr. Selinger said he would cut class size in the early years, where it is critical.
No one promised more standards tests, a measure by which students' competence can be compared against expectations. It is a glaring omission in Manitoba, where there are provincial expectations for curriculum, but nothing until Grade 12 to hold schools and teachers accountable for the learning that goes on (or not) in classrooms. It sets this province apart in Canada and makes it difficult for parents and taxpayers to hold politicians and educators responsible.
Liberal Leader Jon Gerrard made the cogent argument that fixing what's wrong starts long before kids are at school writing tests and challenging exams. Mr. Gerrard said his party would ramp up assessment of children's competencies before they enter school.
The Liberal idea gets to the kids who most need the attention of the education system and the social supports that prepare children for a life of learning. Evidence is strong that deficits in learning are laid down in the toddler years. Mr. Gerrard should tell us more to pressure other parties to heed this good sense.