Makeup of education commission panned

Advocates concerned about lack of newcomers, youth and Manitobans with disabilities

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After overhauling Manitoba’s health care system, the provincial government now has a commission reviewing K-12 education with a mandate to make “bold recommendations to ignite change.”

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 17/02/2019 (1268 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

After overhauling Manitoba’s health care system, the provincial government now has a commission reviewing K-12 education with a mandate to make “bold recommendations to ignite change.”

That has some groups concerned about the makeup of the commission and whether its members can understand and meet the needs of student populations they don’t reflect.

What’s missing, critics say, are representatives from the newcomer community, youth and Manitobans living with disabilities.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Abdikheir Ahmed, director of Immigration Partnership Winnipeg, wonders how thorough a review can be when the government has chosen to 'neglect an entire community.'

“How can you appoint a commission to review education yet neglect a whole community?” asked Abdikheir Ahmed, executive director of Immigration Partnership Winnipeg. He said newcomer kids are one of the fastest-growing and most marginalized demographics but there’s no commission member with a connection to them.

“We’re talking about an emerging population with unique needs these commissioners will not understand,” said Ahmed

The nine-member commission has two representatives from Winnipeg – Terry Brown, a Legacy Bowes Group partner with an MBA who’s past chairman of the Aboriginal Chamber of Commerce, and Laurel Repski, a vice-president of human resources for the University of Winnipeg who’s served on the board of the Children’s Museum and the Manitoba Theatre for Young People.

The other seven commission members are from outside Winnipeg — from Thompson to Steinbach — with one member from outside Manitoba. Alberta resident Janice MacKinnon served as an NDP cabinet minister in Saskatchewan for a decade. Portage la Prairie MLA and former cabinet minister Ian Wishart, who is Education and Training Minister Kelvin Goertzen’s legislative assistant, is leading the review’s public engagement sessions expected to begin by summer, a departmental spokeswoman said Wednesday.

None of the commission members are known to represent people with disabilities, said Janet Forbes, executive director of Inclusion Winnipeg. “It matters that their voice is heard somewhere.” She said she hopes there will at least be consultations targeting their needs.

“I think it would’ve been nice if we had parent, a family member or a student with a disability who recently completed high school to provide a lived-experience perspective,” said Carlos Sosa, an advocate living with a disability.

The province says its plan is to improve the education system and consult with the public on a wide range of topics including accountability for student learning, governance and funding. When the review was announced, there was no mention of taking into consideration Manitoba’s fastest growing and most-marginalized groups such as Indigenous students and those whose first language is not English.

“It’s of paramount importance that we have people who understand the needs of Indigenous kids,” said Ahmed “How will this committee understand the needs of refugee kids attending our schools? They have unique needs.”

The president of the Aboriginal Council of Winnipeg is in favour of an education system overhaul.

“I’m willing to give it a chance,” Damon Johnston said. “The issue of education for indigenous people is the most important to all of us going forward,” said Johnston, who knows commissioner Terry Brown and has faith in him. Johnston said it’s important for concerned groups to take part in the consultation process when they get the chance.

Otherwise, they may get left out, said Inclusion Winnipeg’s Forbes.

“In other provinces where there are reviews followed by cuts and scaling back, it’s always kids in the special education stream who are often the first ones who experience a loss,” she said. “We’re really trying to encourage people to participate in consultations,” said Forbes.

The commission is “exploring how to reach vulnerable populations that may include children in care, incarcerated youth, recent immigrants, suspended and expelled students or those who have dropped out, First Nations, Metis and Inuit populations and families living in poverty,” the spokeswoman for the province said Wednesday in an email.

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Legislature reporter

After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.

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