If the Saskatchewan NDP has its way, the 2020 provincial election will focus on the province’s stressed education system and ensuring schools have adequate resources to succeed.
The party highlighted just how stressed the system is — along with how much students, teachers, support staff and school divisions are struggling — by unveiling the results of the Brighter Future Education Survey it conducted this summer. Party leader Ryan Meili and education critic Carla Beck presented the results during an inaugural education town hall in Moose Jaw on Oct. 17.
The NDP intends to hold more education town halls across the province to unveil the survey results and speak with people about the education system.
“The plan all along was to gather those responses from people around the province and to bring back what we heard to (those) people,” explained Beck, a former school trustee. “This isn’t the end of the discussion; we’re just starting.”
The party is taking what it has heard about education and moving with that data toward the 2020 election, where it plans to make education a ballot box question, she continued. The plan will ensure Saskatchewan is the best place to be, teach and raise a child.
Education is an area to which the NDP has been committed for years and is something that needs to be done right, Beck said. She thought the provincial government was unwilling to help ensure the system flourish.
“We’re willing to do what it takes … ,” she remarked. “We know what’s wrong with classrooms. We need to start moving toward commitments, (toward) a plan for next year, a plan for the next five years (and) for the next generation.”
From the town hall meetings, Beck hopes more people come forward to “tell their story” about what’s happening in the classrooms, along with ideas about what should be done for students. It also wants to “put to rest the ridiculous things” the minister of education has talked about, such as 19 students being the average class size across the province.
“It really makes people feel disrespected. It makes people feel like they haven’t been heard,” said Beck. “We want to show people that we have heard them and that we are prepared to do what it’s going to take in order to reverse this trend we’re seeing in our classrooms.”
The NDP’s education survey says there “is a crisis in our classrooms.” The party didn’t start using the word crisis until a year ago, but was accused of hyperbole once it started saying it, Beck explained. She uses crisis because that’s what she is hearing and because she has spoken with people who break down emotionally while talking to her about education.
It doesn’t matter what community the NDP visits, party MLAs are hearing in every corner of the province similar complaints that not enough is being done to support students or fund classrooms.
“People have been … trying to do more with less year after year,” Beck said. “And we’re coming to the point where people don’t have more to give.”
NDP MLAs are hearing about teachers burning out, concerns about mental health supports, and the lack of special health-care professionals. Beck thought this is something that needs to be addressed since it becomes a bigger problem every year it’s not handled.
There is also a lack of support outside the classroom, she continued. There are fewer resources in communities to support students, children and families. It can be difficult to focus on learning and teaching when schools are focusing on ensuring kids have enough to eat and ensuring classrooms are safe.
“Those who are anywhere near our schools know what we’re talking about. They know we’re not embellishing … ,” Beck added. “People are feeling like they can’t keep afloat much longer.”