On June 17, I hosted a Zoom town hall meeting to discuss better options for improving education in Manitoba than those presented in Bill 64.
It is important to not just criticize Bill 64, but to present alternatives which will be effective and are needed in Manitoba to improve our education system. Some of these approaches are already being used in Manitoba thanks to innovative school boards, superintendents, principals and teachers who have focused on improving education.
Much of this innovation and improvement would, sadly, be lost under Bill 64.
Our first two panelists, Doug Adams and Heather Shelton, are teachers who have worked in a very diverse school in Brandon.
They focused on an approach - competency-based education - in which children in the first four grades are put in classes based on their skill or competency level rather than on their age. They found that children learned much better with this approach because they were being taught at their skill levels. Further, there was a dramatic decrease in behavioural problems and in the need for discipline because children were better focused on learning as the teaching was at the level they needed.
Our third panelist, Victoria Romero, spoke about project-based learning. Children learn through doing projects they are interested in and excited about, with didactic teaching limited to filling gaps in students’ knowledge. This approach, already being used in Seven Oaks school division’s Met schools, and in a school in the Louis Riel School Division, has proved very successful, particularly for children who struggle in the traditional classroom.
Sheva Schwartz, our fourth panelist, talked about leadership-based education, which focuses on developing leadership skills and leadership abilities for all students. Seeing every child as a leader in at least one area where they do well - whether math, science, music, theatre or in a sport, in helping others or in volunteering - builds self esteem in children, and builds their confidence. Interestingly, this approach has been found to dramatically improve student test scores even though the primary emphasis is not on the curriculum.
Niigaan Sinclair, our fifth panelist, spoke of the importance of students learning who we are as Manitobans, including the history of Indigenous people in our province. He emphasized the importance for all students to be grounded in knowing who they are, who their own community is, and also learning of the backgrounds of others who live in Manitoba.
Raj Gill, our last panelist, a Grade 12 student who came from India to Manitoba two and a half years ago, spoke of the need for our education system to do better in helping new immigrants learn. He emphasized the need for Manitoba to emulate Ontario in providing after-school help to new immigrants so that any shortcomings in their knowledge or their English or French language proficiency can be addressed.
Following the presentations, there were many questions raised by those who joined the town hall.
Altogether, it was a fascinating evening learning about what we could be doing to improve education in Manitoba instead of Bill 64.
Strikingly, the presentations were consistent in wanting to ensure local elected school trustees make sure that learning is grounded in local communities and is not primarily determined by non-elected individuals who may, or may not, have ties to or understanding of the local community.
Those interested in seeing the full town hall can use this link : www.youtu.be/FpHFotRtyLo
River Heights constituency report
Jon Gerrard is Liberal MLA for River Heights.