“Made in Canada” education privatization

By H. Mark Ramsankar

Edu-business is a term used to describe the multi-trillion dollar education market. According to Edudemic, a pro-tech in education website, the industry is “not only huge; it’s also undergoing more changes recently than it has at possibly any other point in history. Startups are sprouting to fill in gaps and create new technologies to service this increasingly lucrative field.”

The door for privatization was opened wide by GERM, the Global Education Reform Movement, the nice folks that promote charter schools, voucher programs, increased competition between schools, test-based accountability and the narrowing of curriculum.

Continue reading (Perspectives web magazine): http://perspectives.ctf-fce.ca/en/article/3144/

H. Mark Ramsankar is the President of the Canadian Teachers’ Federation from July 2017 to July 2019.

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La privatisation de l’éducation « fabriquée au Canada »

Par H. Mark Ramsankar

L’éducation représente un marché de plusieurs billions de dollars. D’après Edudemic, un site Web qui fait la promotion des technologies en éducation, ce marché n’est [traduction libre] « pas seulement énorme; il a récemment connu plus de changements que jamais auparavant. De jeunes entreprises poussent pour combler des lacunes et créer de nouvelles technologies au service de ce secteur de plus en plus lucratif. »

La porte de la privatisation a été largement ouverte par les adeptes du mouvement mondial de réforme de l’éducation ou GERM (l’acronyme anglais de Global Education Reform Movement), ces charmantes personnes qui font la promotion des écoles à charte, des programmes de bons d’études, de la concurrence accrue entre les écoles, de la responsabilisation par les tests et du resserrement du programme d’études.

Continuez la lecture (magazine Web Perspectives) http://perspectives.ctf-fce.ca/fr/article/3144/

H. Mark Ramsankar est le président de la Fédération canadienne des enseignantes et des enseignants pour la période de juillet 2017 à juillet 2019.

Big data in education: Servant or master?

by Bernie Froese-Germain

The We The Educators (WTE) project, a partnership of Education International, the Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA) and the Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF), was launched in May 2017 at Education International’s ‘Unite for Quality Education and Leadership’ Conference in Rotterdam.  The Canadian launch of WTE took place at CTF’s Canadian Forum on Public Education held in Ottawa in July.

In the broad context of global education reform, as the literature review states, WTE “examines the handshake between educational technology and the datafication of learning, and how these forces can influence the depersonalisation of learning and the deprofessionalisation of teaching.”

The literature review also acknowledges that

Educational technology and the associated production of data hold great potential in terms of supporting individual learner needs.  But the relationship between educational technology, data, personalisation, privatisation and standardisation needs to be considered with care; the potential for harm must not be overshadowed by the hype, and the broader purpose of education must not be lost. [emphasis added]
https://wetheeducators.com/

Writing in the Summer issue of the ATA Magazine (on the theme of “Assessment in the Era of Big Data”), Sam Sellar observes that, “Datafication is one of the most significant developments in schools around the world today.  Data in various forms – from attendance and behaviour records to grades and standardized test results – now shape the work of policymakers, administrators and teachers in the classroom.”  Sellar uses the metaphor of nested dolls to explain how data are being used in schools:

We can think about schools as sitting within a series of increasingly larger units that shape their work.  A school is like the smallest matryoshka doll in a set.  In Canada, for example, a school sits within a school board, which sits within a provincial education system and, in turn, a national approach to education.  The largest doll is the global space in which we now think about education.  For example, international organizations such as the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) increasingly shape the work of schools through tests like the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA).  Data flow between each of these different nested scales and it is important to understand how this occurs and how it affects public education.
https://www.teachers.ab.ca/Publications/ATA%20Magazine/Volume-97-2016-17/Number-4/Pages/Navigating-the-Flow-of-Datafication.aspx

Pasi Sahlberg in another article reminds us that “big data is a good servant but a bad master.”  He outlines a number of reasons for this:

  1. A fundamental purpose of big data is to have enough information and process it fast enough to predict what is likely to happen next.  This is called predictive analytics and is the great promise of big data.  This may be worthwhile in meteorology or a corporation’s strategic planning, but it certainly may lead to odd situations in health care or education if not handled sensibly.
  2. When masses of data are collected in school by sensors, such as motion detectors, cameras and microphones capturing every child’s facial expression, social interaction and gestures every day, all year round, decisions made by smart machines may lead to unethical experimentation on students or even Orwellian surveillance of individuals’ privacy.
  3. Big data is also emerging through digital testing platforms and adaptive learning analytics systems (digital tutors); as masses of student testing data grow, so does the desire to harvest it for patterns.
  4. Big data normally reveals only correlation between events, not causation.  Correlation is important in understanding these relationships, but it doesn’t mean that one thing would cause the other.

Sahlberg proposes that we place a greater focus on what he calls “small data” which “emerges from the notion that in a world that is increasingly governed by binary digits and cold statistics, we need information that helps us to understand better those aspects of teaching and learning that are invisible or not easily measurable.”  At its core, small data speaks to the relational nature of teaching and learning, and how these important relationships can provide teachers with the knowledge they need to help their students to learn:

Teachers know the importance of human observations, face-to-face conversations and critical reflections in making sense of what goes on in classrooms.  Standardized tests or opinion surveys may help to identify some general trends, but they are not able to reveal deeper secrets of pedagogy.  Therefore, small data can be a good tool to find out what works best and why in schools.
https://www.teachers.ab.ca/Publications/ATA%20Magazine/Volume-97-2016-17/Number-4/Pages/Small-Data-for-Big-Change.aspx

The essence of the “small data” idea is captured succinctly in this quote by Alberta teacher and blogger, Joe Bower (who passed away in 2016), highlighted in the We The Educators videos: “Want to collect data on how children are learning?  Know them.  Watch them.  Listen to them.  Talk with them.  Sit with them.  Be with them.”

Bernie Froese-Germain is a Researcher with the Canadian Teachers’ Federation.

Les mégadonnées en éducation : utiles ou nuisibles?

par Bernie Froese-Germain

Le projet We the Educators/Nous, Éducateurs et Éducatrices, fruit d’un partenariat entre l’Internationale de l’Éducation (IE), l’Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA) et la Fédération canadienne des enseignantes et des enseignants (FCE), a été lancé en mai 2017 à la Conférence Uni(e)s pour une éducation et un leadership de qualité de l’IE, à Rotterdam. Le lancement canadien de ce projet a eu lieu au Forum canadien sur l’éducation publique de la FCE, qui s’est tenu en juillet à Ottawa.

Dans le vaste contexte de la réforme mondiale de l’éducation, le projet We the Educators examine, comme l’indique la revue de la littérature réalisée sur le sujet, « le lien étroit entre la technologie éducationnelle et la mise en données de l’apprentissage, ainsi que la manière dont ces forces peuvent influencer la dépersonnalisation de l’apprentissage et la déprofessionnalisation de l’enseignement ».

Cette revue de la littérature reconnaît également que

[l]a technologie éducationnelle et la production connexe de données présentent des possibilités de contribuer très utilement au soutien des élèves en répondant à leurs besoins particuliers, mais il faut faire preuve de prudence quand on considère la relation entre la technologie éducationnelle, les données, la personnalisation, la privatisation et la standardisation. Tout le tapage publicitaire ne doit pas nous faire perdre de vue les dangers et nous devons garder à l’esprit la mission profonde de l’éducation. [C’est nous qui soulignons.]

https://wetheeducators.com/tagged/français

Dans un article publié dans le numéro d’été de l’ATA Magazine (sur le thème de l’évaluation à l’ère des mégadonnées), Sam Sellar fait observer que [traduction libre] « la mise en données est aujourd’hui l’une des plus importantes nouveautés dans les écoles du monde entier. Les données, qui prennent différentes formes — allant des registres de présence et de comportement aux résultats des tests standardisés en passant par les notes des élèves — façonnent maintenant le travail des responsables des politiques, des administrateurs et administratrices, et des enseignantes et enseignants en classe. » Sam Sellar se sert de l’image des poupées gigognes pour expliquer comment les données sont utilisées dans les écoles :

[Traduction libre]

Nous pouvons penser aux écoles comme des unités se trouvant à l’intérieur d’une série d’unités de plus en plus grandes qui orientent leur travail. L’école représente la plus petite matriochka de la série. Au Canada, par exemple, l’école se trouve dans un conseil scolaire qui, lui, fait partie d’un système d’éducation provincial, lequel s’emboîte à son tour dans une vision nationale de l’éducation. La plus grande poupée correspond à l’espace mondial dans lequel nous pensons maintenant l’éducation. Par exemple, des organisations internationales comme l’Organisation de coopération et de développement économiques (OCDE) influencent de plus en plus le travail des écoles au moyen de tests comme ceux du Programme international pour le suivi des acquis des élèves (PISA). Les données passent d’une poupée à l’autre, ou d’un échelon à l’autre, et il est important de comprendre comment cela se produit et ce que cela signifie pour l’éducation publique.

https://www.teachers.ab.ca/Publications/ATA%20Magazine/Volume-97-2016-17/Number-4/Pages/Navigating-the-Flow-of-Datafication.aspx (en anglais)

Dans un autre article, Pasi Sahlberg nous rappelle que les mégadonnées font de bonnes servantes, mais de bien mauvaises maîtresses. Il nous dit pourquoi :

[Traduction libre]

  1. L’un des objectifs fondamentaux des mégadonnées consiste à obtenir suffisamment d’information et à traiter celle-ci assez rapidement pour prédire la suite probable des évènements. C’est ce qu’on appelle l’analyse prédictive, et c’est la grande promesse des mégadonnées. Si cette forme d’analyse peut être utile en météorologie ou pour la planification stratégique d’une entreprise, elle peut certainement mener à des situations étranges dans les domaines des soins de santé ou de l’éducation si elle n’est pas effectuée judicieusement;

  2. Quand des masses de données sont recueillies dans les écoles par des capteurs comme des détecteurs de mouvements, des caméras et des microphones qui saisissent les expressions faciales, les interactions sociales et les gestes de chaque enfant, tous les jours, pendant toute l’année, les décisions prises par des machines intelligentes peuvent mener à des expériences contraires à l’éthique sur les élèves ou même à une surveillance orwellienne de la vie privée;

  3. Des mégadonnées sont aussi produites par les plateformes de testage numérique et les systèmes d’analyse de l’apprentissage adaptatif (tuteurs numériques). Tandis que les tests multiplient les données recueillies sur les élèves, l’intérêt pour ces données afin d’en dégager les tendances va en augmentant;

  4. Les mégadonnées ne révèlent normalement que la corrélation entre des évènements, et non la causalité. La corrélation est importante pour comprendre ces relations, mais elle ne signifie pas que telle chose causerait telle autre chose.

Pasi Sahlberg suggère que nous mettions davantage l’accent sur ce qu’il appelle les « petites données », qui [traduction libre] « découlent de l’idée voulant que, dans un monde de plus en plus gouverné par les chiffres binaires et de froides statistiques, nous avons besoin d’information qui nous aide à mieux comprendre les aspects de l’enseignement et de l’apprentissage qui sont invisibles ou difficilement mesurables ». Les petites données concernent fondamentalement la nature relationnelle de l’enseignement et de l’apprentissage, et la manière dont ces relations importantes peuvent fournir aux enseignantes et enseignants les connaissances dont ils ont besoin pour aider leurs élèves à apprendre :

[Traduction libre]

Les enseignantes et enseignants sont bien conscients de l’importance des observations humaines, des conversations personnelles et des réflexions critiques pour comprendre ce qui se passe en classe. Les tests standardisés ou les sondages d’opinion peuvent contribuer à dégager des tendances générales, mais ils ne peuvent pas révéler les secrets plus profonds de la pédagogie. Par conséquent, les petites données peuvent être utiles pour savoir ce qui fonctionne le mieux dans les écoles et comprendre pourquoi c’est ainsi.

https://www.teachers.ab.ca/Publications/ATA%20Magazine/Volume-97-2016-17/Number-4/Pages/Small-Data-for-Big-Change.aspx (en anglais)

Le concept des « petites données » est bien résumé dans la citation suivante de Joe Bower, enseignant et blogueur albertain (décédé en 2016), mise en évidence dans les vidéos du site « We The Educators » : « Vous voulez recueillir des données sur la manière d’apprendre des enfants? Alors apprenez à les connaître. Observez-les. Écoutez-les. Parlez avec eux. Asseyez-vous avec eux. Passez du temps avec eux. »

Now, more than ever, the need to protect public education in the era of Trump

By Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT)
Keynote remarks at the CTF Canadian Forum on Public Education,  July 10, 2017 in Ottawa.

Values, democracy

Like many of you, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking since our election. Donald Trump ran as a populist but governs for the elite and the wealthy. He exploited the deep distrust and anxiety in America, people’s frustration with an economy and political system rigged against them. He hijacked the rhetoric of our movement to get elected. He promised jobs to out-of-work factory workers and coal miners. He promised an end to Obamacare and a much better replacement. He hasn’t delivered. Indeed, his actions to date have been to take things away from people—the push to strip people of health care, of voting rights, labor rights, reproductive rights, travel rights, among other things. And in the process, he has disrespected the dignity of the office of the president.

As polarized as our country now seems, when you really listen to people throughout America,  you still hear similar hopes and aspirations, regardless of geography or demography or politics.

I’ve traveled a great deal since the November election, visited hundreds of schools and talked with educators, parents, community leaders and others in big cities and in small rural towns; to Democrats as well as folks who voted for Trump. This is what I hear:

  • People want good jobs that pay a living wage and a voice at work.
  • They want a secure retirement with dignity.
  • They want affordable, accessible healthcare coverage so they’re not one illness away from bankruptcy.
  • And they want public schools that are safe, welcoming, and give kids a ladder of opportunity. And people want affordable higher education that doesn’t leave them with a mountain of debt.

What we know is that none of this happens without a strong and vibrant democracy that’s inclusive, respects the will of the people, and protects the civil rights of all.

So in some ways, the biggest challenge in America, and frankly around the world, is the dangerous attacks on pluralism and freedom. In the U.S., it looks like blatant voter suppression, gerrymandering of districts to hurt minorities and Democrats; attacks on the media and the judiciary, and blaming immigrants, Muslims, even transgender students, for all the problems of a world in transition.

I have been carrying a book that a Yale history professor, Dr.  Tim Snyder, has written, called “On Tyranny: 20 Lessons from the 20th Century.” It essentially instructs us that history, while it doesn’t repeat, can instruct and can warn…  and if we are going to take on the fight for these values… who better than do that than the world‘s educators.

Labor unions and public education

The AFT and the CTF represent two institutions vital to opportunity and democracy: labor unions and public education. That is why we are in the crosshairs, maybe right now more in the United States than Canada. But I know education privatization is creeping across the border in at least three Canadian provinces.

Public education and labor unions are the gateways to the middle class. They are the foundations of a just society and a vibrant democracy. And they provide paths to counter the lack of economic security and opportunity that is tearing at the fabric of our society.

(From left to right: CTF President H. Mark Ramsankar, CTF VP Francine Leblanc-Lebel, former CTF President Heather Smith, CTF VP James Dinn, AFT President Randi Weingarten and former CTF VP Shelley Morse.)

Trump-DeVos agenda

President Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos are committed to two things: They treat education as a commodity, not as a public good. And they promote and incentivize privatizing schools while defunding, destabilizing and ultimately destroying public education by slashing education dollars and diverting them elsewhere, including for private school tuition.

DeVos couches her education vision with the argument that every parent deserves the right to send their child to a school of their choice. Sounds good, right? But what she doesn’t say is that she wants to make it impossible for public schools to be a viable option. She wants to drain money from public schools and hand it over to privatizers.

Her cruel, callous, catastrophic education budget would zero out more than $9 billion in funding for programs that help lift up low-income public school students. And we have real evidence that these programs have been very effective – like after-school enrichment programs, community schools with wraparound services, smaller class sizes and college tuition assistance. Yet, she wants to use $20 billion over the next several years for private school vouchers and other privatization.

She is using the Swedish playbook, to our children’s detriment. Sweden’s students were once among the world’s top-performers. Then Sweden moved to a privatization model, student outcomes plummeted, and Sweden’s ranking plunged. If a strategy isn’t moving the needle anywhere in the world, why in the world would we use it?

And it’s not just in Sweden. In the United States, we have seen similar results with unaccountable privatization:

  • Voucher programs in Louisiana, Indiana and Washington D.C. have had negligible or negative effects on their students. There has been no credible study in the 30 years of vouchers in the United States that concludes those students do better than their public school peers.
  • And the for-profit charter schools that DeVos pushed in Michigan had poor student outcomes along with gross mismanagement and corruption. In 2003, Michigan ranked 28th in fourth-grade reading. By 2015, the state was ranked 41st. In fourth-grade math, the state went from 27th to 42nd.

Visits to Canadian, Van Wert schools

There are great public schools in Canada and the United States. I have visited some in Ottawa that I would rank among the world’s best. We also have lots of excellent public schools in the U.S. that are using “what works” to be schools where parents want to send their kids, teachers want to teach and where there’s joy in learning and kids get engaging instruction. And we have taken delegations to see great schools.

In fact, I took DeVos to a great school system in a rural, small city in Ohio that went overwhelmingly for Trump in November. Van Wert, Ohio, public schools have a robust early childhood program, a nationally recognized robotics team and a community school that helps at-risk students graduate. And it’s clear that teachers and school leaders collaborate and respect each other. But just weeks after that visit, she submitted her budget proposal that would cut federal funding for these programs. It’s truly incomprehensible.

We need to lift up public schools that work and the programs that make them work.

But what happens when they are not working for kids?  What happens when we continue to under-resource schools? 23 states still spend less on K-12 education than before the Great Recession.

If schools aren’t safe enough or are otherwise struggling, the solution isn’t to throw the baby out with the bath water. It’s not to dismantle public education in favor of an ideology and an agenda that have no evidence of working.

It’s to do what I call the four pillars—the strategies that will help create and maintain successful schools: focusing on children’s well-being, powerful learning, teacher capacity and collaboration.

Children’s well being

Education starts with meeting children where they are—emotionally, socially, physically and academically. Every child needs to feel safe and valued. We also need to confront poverty because we know that poverty’s consequences seriously affect how kids do in school. One way is with community schools, which are neighborhood schools that meet students’ needs by coordinating with partners for resources. These include in-school health and dental clinics, social workers, guidance counselors, food pantries, parent resource centers. And at these schools, we’ve seen large gains in student attendance, parental involvement and academic progress.

Powerful learning

The path to accomplishing the goals of developing students academically, for work and civic life lies on powerful learning—learning that engages students; encourages them to investigate, strategize and work in teams. Testing and test prep won’t get them there. An example is what we saw in Van Wert, Ohio, a rigorous project-based approach that starts in elementary school and goes through high school. Career and technical education can also deeply engage students and develop skills and knowledge that they will use in the world of work.

Building teacher capacity

We’ve seen for too long and in far too many schools the routine of basically throwing the keys to a teacher and telling them to ‘just do it and do it well.’ No one would accept that if it involved pilots or soldiers. But teachers? Becoming an accomplished teacher takes time, support and an intentional focus – like teacher residency programs that pair a prospective teacher with accomplished educators … and opportunities for new and veteran teachers to share experiences with colleagues. Also, teacher evaluations should be about teacher development to support teacher growth and student learning. Teacher evaluations shouldn’t be solely based on test scores and used as a hammer to sanction and punish teachers.

Fostering school and community collaboration

The glue that holds all of this together is educators, parents and community partners working together. What doesn’t work for a struggling school is taking the “disruption” approach—mass firings, school closures, and district or state takeovers. What is effective is working together and bringing in the programs and services that will lift up our schools, not tear them down. Like speech therapy, Socratic seminars, science fairs, chess clubs, mentors for students.

We are in the fight of our lives. On the one hand, we have as our education secretary the most ideological, anti-public education person to ever hold the title. She is someone who has never seen a privatization program she disliked or a public school she liked. On the other side, there are those of us who believe that every child has a right to dream their dreams and achieve them. That only happens with a system of public education.

Conclusion

And even though most days it feels like an uphill battle, there is a real appetite in the United States to fight back, and we are doing just that.

At the end of the day, parents want to feel confident in their public schools, know that they have a safe and welcoming environment where kids find joy in learning. They want education to enable opportunity and they want their public schools to live up to their potential as the great equalizers in our society.

In the United States, now is not the time to lower our defenses or sit on the sidelines. With an increasingly erratic president and members of his party who refuse to act as a check and balance, we have to hold them accountable and empower people to take action to preserve, protect, strengthen and improve public education.

There’s no sugar coating it—Americans are facing an existential threat to our rights and our public education system. There is a path forward focused on resistance and persistence around the values and aspirations that bind all of us.

In the end, it’s a question of what kind of country we want. Should we settle for some children getting the education they need and deserve, but not all? Do we want a country where income determines whether people will have access to the healthcare they need, or the higher education they want, or a retirement with dignity?

We, the people, have to be the check and balance on the threats to our democracy. It is we, the people, who must reclaim the promise of public education. This work can’t be outsourced. It takes all of us.

Sweep of educational apps finds some fall short on privacy

By the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada

GATINEAU, QC, October 24, 2017 – A sweep of a number of popular online applications used in Canadian classrooms has found that many service providers are carefully considering the needs of younger users when it comes to privacy, but others are falling short.

“We were pleased to find that many of the apps we looked at are taking important steps to protect the privacy of children and youth, for example, by offering kid-friendly explanations about why personal information is being collected,” says Privacy Commissioner of Canada Daniel Therrien.

“Unfortunately, we also found cases where educational apps need to do better. We were concerned to find cases where websites encouraged students to provide more personal information than was actually necessary.”

Continue Readinghttps://www.priv.gc.ca/en/opc-news/news-and-announcements/2017/nr-c_171024/

Le ratissage d’applications éducatives révèle certaines failles en matière de protection de la vie privée

Par le Commissariat à la protection de la vie privée du Canada (CPVP)

GATINEAU (Québec), le 24 octobre 2017 — Le ratissage de certaines applications en ligne fréquemment utilisées dans les salles de classe au Canada a démontré que de nombreux fournisseurs de services tiennent compte des besoins des jeunes utilisateurs en matière de protection de la vie privée; toutefois, d’autres affichent certaines lacunes.

« Nous constatons avec satisfaction que bon nombre des concepteurs d’applications que nous avons étudiées prennent les mesures nécessaires pour protéger la vie privée des enfants et des jeunes, en offrant, par exemple, des explications adaptées aux enfants afin qu’ils comprennent pourquoi des renseignements personnels sont recueillis », affirme Daniel Therrien, commissaire à la protection de la vie privée du Canada.

« Malheureusement, nous avons relevé des cas d’applications éducatives qui doivent faire mieux. Nous sommes préoccupés de constater l’existence de sites Web qui encouragent les élèves à fournir plus de renseignements personnels que nécessaire. »

Continuez la lecturehttps://www.priv.gc.ca/fr/nouvelles-du-commissariat/nouvelles-et-annonces/2017/nr-c_171024/

CTF’s new president talks family, presidency, and Bob Marley

By Candide Uyanze

If given the chance, H. Mark Ramsankar says he would engage in a one-hour conversation with an unlikely inspiration: Bob Marley.

H. Mark Ramsankar

Unlikely because, initially, one probably wouldn’t expect the new president of the Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF) to draw inspiration from the late Jamaican artist. Ramsankar, however, believes Marley’s personal values transcend career differences.

“When you look at who he was, and what he meant to music, in the Caribbean, specifically Jamaica, he took insurmountable odds and took it to a global scale.”

Particularly, Ramsankar is impressed by Marley’s ability to turn a musical genre housed in a single island into a world movement. He believes this ability, when applied to the Federation, could help with carrying on an international stage the voices of the 232,000+ teachers CTF represents, and helping those teachers recognize the value of their collective voice.

H. Mark Ramsankar (bottom row, far left) poses here with CTF’s 2012-2013 Executive Committee at CTF’s 2012 Annual General Meeting (AGM).

Ramsankar knows especially well the importance of this. The father of two, former vice-principal and union leader first heard about teachers’ unions as a young Albertan educator in the late 80s. A presentation on having active involvement in one’s professional organisation led Ramsankar to conduct further research and get involved with his teachers’ association at the local, provincial, and, subsequently, national levels. In 2012, when he was vice-president of The Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA), Ramsankar was elected to the CTF Executive Committee. The following year, he was elected president to the ATA a position he held until 2017. In 2016, he was elected CTF president-designate, a transitional role to prepare for his presidency in 2017.

CTF President H. Mark Ramsankar (left) and Past President Heather Smith (right) at the CTF’s 2017 AGM. Ramsankar is signing the changeover documents.

In terms of preparation for his new role, Ramsankar says he has been taking advice indirectly from past CTF presidents over the years by observing their actions and words. They have also encouraged him to be who he is and carry his voice with passion and integrity. He also draws inspiration from leaders with different characteristics, believing there is no singular, right or wrong way to do things.

Ramsankar acknowledges the strong leadership CTF has had over the years. “Will I be able to hold up my end, so to speak? I’m working towards that. I really hope I can. There are areas I continue to work on.”

“But I guess the number one thing I’ll miss about Alberta is my family. It’s going to be tough, but it’s a hurdle that we’re going to work to overcome.”

When asked what he looks forward to the most in his two-year position, the new president cites growing as an individual, representing the country and teaching profession, as well as tackling topics and issues affecting Canadian teachers and public education.

In terms of the next steps in his new role, Ramsankar says he must learn more about the inner-workings of CTF, know about all the responsibilities and commitments the position will entail, determine the most pressing issues that were highlighted during CTF’s annual Forum and AGM, and think about how to set up better coordinated communication between Member organizations among themselves and with CTF.

Finally, throughout his three decades of experience in schools and teachers’ associations, Ramsankar believes the skills that shine through in each of his leadership positions are bringing people together under a common goal as well as working for and serving the people he represents.

“Those are some of the things that I’m prepared to do and bring to CTF.”

H. Mark Ramsankar (center-right) stands with his Member organization, ATA, at CTF’s 2016 AGM.

(Candide Uyanze worked as a CTF communications assistant during the summer of 2017)

Le nouveau président de la FCE parle de sa famille, de la présidence et de Bob Marley

Par Candide Uyanze

Si c’était possible, Mark Ramsankar aimerait passer une heure à discuter avec nul autre que Bob Marley, une source d’inspiration quelque peu inusitée!

H. Mark RamsankarPourquoi? Parce que, de prime abord, on ne s’attend pas à ce qu’un président de la Fédération canadienne des enseignantes et des enseignants (FCE) trouve son inspiration dans un personnage comme l’artiste jamaïcain maintenant décédé. Pourtant, Mark Ramsankar estime que les valeurs incarnées par Bob Marley transcendent les différences professionnelles.

« Quand on pense à ce qu’il était et à ce qu’il a représenté dans la musique des Caraïbes et plus précisément de la Jamaïque, on se rend compte qu’il a réussi, malgré des obstacles qui auraient pu être insurmontables, à se faire apprécier dans le monde entier. »

En particulier, le nouveau président de la FCE admire le talent avec lequel Bob Marley a réussi à transformer un genre musical propre à son île en un mouvement planétaire. Mark Ramsankar pense qu’un tel talent, mis au service de la FCE, permettrait de faire résonner sur la scène internationale les voix des quelque 232 000 enseignantes et enseignants que la FCE représente et d’amener ceux-ci à reconnaître toute la valeur de leur voix collective.

Mark Ramsankar (rangée avant, extrême gauche) pose en compagnie du Comité exécutif de la FCE de 2012-2013 à l’occasion de l’Assemblée générale annuelle de 2012 de la Fédération.

Mark Ramsankar, lui, est très conscient de la valeur de cette voix. Ancien directeur adjoint d’école et dirigeant syndical, ce père de deux enfants a entendu parler pour la première fois des syndicats de l’enseignement vers la fin des années 1980 alors qu’il débutait sa carrière d’enseignant en Alberta. À la suite d’une présentation pour encourager le personnel enseignant à jouer un rôle actif dans son organisation professionnelle, Mark Ramsankar a poussé plus loin sa recherche et décidé de s’engager auprès de son association professionnelle, d’abord au niveau local, puis provincial et, par la suite, national. En 2012, alors qu’il occupait le poste de vice-président de l’Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA), il a été élu au Comité exécutif de la FCE. L’année suivante, il est devenu président de l’ATA, fonction qu’il a gardée jusqu’en 2017. En 2016, il a été élu président désigné de la FCE, un rôle transitoire qui devait le préparer à assumer la présidence à partir de 2017.

Le président de la FCE Mark Ramsankar (à gauche) et la présidente sortante Heather Smith (à droite) signent les documents de passation de pouvoirs à l’AGA de 2017 de la FCE.

Pour se préparer à son nouveau rôle, Mark Ramsankar explique qu’au fil des ans, il a observé les anciens présidents et présidentes de la FCE dont l’expérience lui a donc profité indirectement. Ces personnes l’ont aussi encouragé à être lui-même et à faire connaître ses idées avec passion et intégrité. Il a aussi d’autres modèles aux caractéristiques différentes, parce qu’il estime qu’il n’y a pas qu’une seule bonne ou mauvaise façon de faire les choses.

Le nouveau président reconnaît et apprécie toute l’influence que la FCE a exercé au cours des années. « Serai-je capable d’apporter ma digne contribution? J’y travaille déjà et j’espère vraiment y arriver. Il y a encore des aspects auxquels je continue de travailler. »

Sur une autre note, le président confie qu’une chose lui manquera plus que toute autre de l’Alberta : sa famille. « La séparation va être difficile à vivre, mais c’est une difficulté que nous apprendrons à surmonter. »

Quand on lui demande ce qu’il espère le plus de sa présidence de deux ans, Mark Ramsankar parle de la chance qu’il aura de progresser comme personne, de représenter le pays et la profession de l’enseignement, et de faire avancer les dossiers importants pour les enseignantes et enseignants, et pour l’éducation publique au Canada.

Au sujet de ce qu’il compte faire en premier lieu dans son nouveau rôle, le président explique qu’il devra d’abord en apprendre davantage sur le fonctionnement interne de la FCE et sur tout l’éventail de responsabilités et d’engagements qui viennent avec son titre. Il devra aussi déterminer quels dossiers, parmi ceux signalés au Forum annuel et à l’AGA de la FCE, sont les plus pressants, et réfléchir à la manière de mieux coordonner la communication entre les organisations Membres elles mêmes et entre elles et la FCE.

Pour finir, pendant les 30 ans qu’il a passés à travailler dans des écoles et des associations de l’enseignement, Mark Ramsankar pense que, dans tous les postes de direction qu’il a occupés, il s’est surtout démarqué par sa capacité de rassembler son équipe autour d’un objectif commun et de travailler avec elle au service de ceux et celles qu’il représente.

« Voilà certaines des choses que j’espère faire et apporter à la FCE. »

Mark Ramsankar (centre droite), accompagné de membres de son organisation, l’ATA, à l’AGA de 2016 de la FCE.

(Candide Uyanze a travaillé à la FCE comme adjointe aux communications pendant l’été 2017.)

Past President of national teachers’ federation reflects on presidency, career

By Candide Uyanze

Heather-Smith1On July 14, 2017, at the Canadian Teachers’ Federation’s (CTF) Annual General Meeting (AGM) in Ottawa, Heather Smith signed the documents which officially declared the changeover from her role as President of the CTF onto H. Mark Ramsankar. Smith, a former New Brunswick principal and elementary teacher of 35 years, served her term as President from 2015 to 2017.

A week before the end of her term, Smith agreed to an interview reflecting upon her presidency, career, and life.

Uyanze: Tell us about your upbringing.

Smith: I am the youngest of three children born to two parents who were inspiring role models of community service. My father and brother are both inductees into sports halls of fame, my father at the provincial level and my brother at the municipal, for their years of work in organization of various sports. My parents were volunteers on school boards, municipal councils, our church and a myriad of volunteer boards. It only seemed natural that I would also get involved in volunteering and in my case it was, for the large part, within my profession.

Almost 40 years ago, I was diagnosed with Stage 4 Lymphoma and underwent a year of both chemotherapy and radiation treatments. At 18 years old, it had a profound impact on my university career and on my outlook on life. I am fortunate that my family had the means for monthly travel from New Brunswick to Toronto for treatment and that my mother was able to put her life on hold to be with me on the vast majority of these trips. As a result of this experience, I really don’t ‘sweat the small stuff’! I appreciate the time I have been given to live my life and that has had impact on the choices I have made.

My mother has been a great role model for my sister and me. My sister was President of the Canadian Physiotherapy Association and we both give credit to our mother for having the confidence to take on any challenge with which she was presented. My mother was a journalist for the two provincial papers in New Brunswick in a time when most news reporters were male, but that did not deter her from pursuing the career she had chosen. My sister and I never felt we were less capable than our brother and we were inspired by the role model that our mother was and still is, actually. My mother is 87 and she still golfs, plays badminton and writes the odd news story for her church or the Bathurst Branch of the New Brunswick Scottish Cultural Association.

Uyanze: Describe your professional path.

Smith: I returned to Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax once I was in remission and completed my Bachelor of Child Study in 1982 with majors in Elementary and Special Education. I accepted a Grade 4 teaching position in the small village of McAdam where I met my husband and had the first two of our three children. Interestingly, I was told by doctors at the Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto that, due to the location of my radiation treatments, I would not be able to have children! I taught in McAdam for seven years before moving to my hometown of Bathurst in northeast NB.

I was a substitute teacher for two years before being hired to teach Kindergarten in the first year this grade was introduced to the NB education system. I taught Kindergarten as a solo teacher with a class of 27 children and as a team of two teachers with 52 five-year-olds. I loved team teaching and continued to seek other such opportunities.

My Principal suggested that I apply for the Leadership training offered by my School District and little did I know the impact this choice would have on my professional trajectory. This training boosted my confidence in my abilities as a teacher leader and provided me great opportunities.

I completed two years of distance education, studying and completing assignments while still teaching full time, and in 2006, was presented with a Master of Education in Literacy from Mount Saint Vincent University.

While working towards my Master degree, I was offered an eight-week Acting Principal position for a Principal on medical leave and found that I loved the balance of teaching and leading a team of educators. Over the next 13 years, I held Acting Vice-Principal and Principal positions and was Principal of a small rural school where I was able to teach and be administrator. After 35 years of teaching, I am retiring with no regrets.

Uyanze: What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

Smith: I enjoy reading, playing cards, being near the ocean and really spending as much time with family as I can.

Heather-Smith2Uyanze: How did you get involved with CTF?

Smith: As President of NBTA from 2011-13, I was a member of the CTF Board of Directors. My interest in and awareness of the work of CTF went back to the six years before 2011, when I was a member of the NBTA Board of Directors, and the two years I was NBTA Vice-President.

I never had any intention of running for office in either NBTA or CTF but was encouraged by colleagues to do so. When we are presented with opportunities, the choices we make determine our career path. I was offered the possibility of running for the opportunity to represent fellow teachers because others saw leadership potential in me. I have never seen myself as a politician but, because others had confidence in my abilities, I put myself forward. I haven’t always won but it was never about me winning: it was about me putting myself forward as a choice for those voting. I still had a job that I loved, teaching and administrating at my school.

Uyanze: When you first started your term, what was your objective, what were your goals?

Smith: I have to honestly say that I didn’t have any goals other than to represent the high ideals of CTF on both a national and international stage. I wanted to develop a greater awareness in Canadian teachers of what CTF does on their behalf and what CTF has to offer to them as an individual teacher. I attempted to present myself as a classroom teacher with no greater abilities or skills than they each had and to encourage them to consider representing their colleagues as well.

Uyanze: Do you feel like you’ve accomplished that?

Smith: I’d like to think I have. In every speech I delivered I tried to be down to earth and to be down to earth to the listeners. I presented myself as a teacher first whether speaking within Canada or internationally because that is how I think of myself. I believe that the position of CTF President is less about me and more about how I can leverage my position to improve the daily lives of teachers and children in Canada.

Uyanze: How has the move from New Brunswick affected your family?

Smith: Two of my children had already begun their careers, as an Optometrist and a Museum Curator and my youngest was already away from home working towards her degree in Youth and Child Studies. My husband was able to work from home in Ottawa so there was not a huge impact on our family. However, our son left home for university after graduating from high school in 2001 and over the next 12 years he only spent a week in the summer and one at Christmas with us. He lives here in Ottawa so my involvement in CTF both as a Board member and as President has allowed us to spend more time with him and get to know him as an adult and not just as our son.

Heather-Smith3 Uyanze: What are your fondest memories as President of the CTF?

Smith: I loved working at CTF as the organization undertakes somewhat of a transformation under the capable leadership of Cassie Hallett, Secretary General. The CTF staff is committed and a real pleasure to work with. I have enjoyed meeting all the teachers in the Member organizations of CTF on their ‘home turf’. I loved being immersed in the culture of each organization and listening to the debate on the issues that are important to them. It is the people that I have met that I enjoyed most.

I have also enjoyed representing Canadian teachers internationally. Again, it is the people you meet and get to work with that invoke the fondest memories.

Uyanze: How did you find this experience?

Smith: I thoroughly enjoy learning. It is a huge step to move from talking about what you know—the education system in my own province of New Brunswick— to learning the files that CTF works on at the national and international level. I liked having to learn more about how the federal government operates and how best to strategize to achieve our goals.

Heather-Smith4Uyanze: If you could go back in time and talk to yourself at the beginning of your term, what would you say?

Smith: Strive to be more organized! Keep more lists! Be more aggressive with follow-up after initial meetings with federal politicians, civil servants and other national organizations.

Uyanze: Do you feel like you’ve changed since the beginning of your term? If so, how?

Smith: I don’t really feel like I’ve changed… at least I hope I haven’t. I think of myself as a very down to earth person and I hope that being in this position has not changed that. Personally I feel more confident talking with those I do not know but that is not a change, really.

Uyanze: Is there anything you would do differently?

Smith: I don’t think I would change anything except that I would love to be in this position at CTF for a little bit longer. I am sure that every person in this position would say the same thing but I really feel that in my second year as President, I have developed some relationships that I would love to have the opportunity to deepen for the benefit of CTF. I also feel that CTF is entering a time of great opportunity in relation to its relationship with the federal government and I would love to be part of that.

heather-smith5.jpgUyanze: Do you have any words of advice for the next President?

Smith: Be organized and keep lists. Follow up on meetings. Put CTF first for the two years you are in this position. Always take the high road. Remember that this is not about you as President but is about advocating for what is best for the Canadian teachers we represent and for the children they teach. For the two years you are President, you have no personal public opinions; your public views are those of the organization and you need to listen to the advice of the CTF staff.

Uyanze: What will you miss the most?

Smith: I will miss the people, those I have met through my time as President and those with whom I have worked closely with here at CTF. I will miss the fast pace of the position and the opportunity to have a positive impact for Canadian teachers, students and education.

Uyanze: What is next for you?

Smith: I will retire as of July 31st and move back to the Maritimes. I have lived most of my life in New Brunswick but we just bought a condo this spring in Nova Scotia, on the Northumberland Strait, and I look forward to seeing many sunsets over the ocean. I also look forward to seeing many fewer sunrises! My husband is a teacher as well and we have always said how we would look to teach overseas when we retire, so who knows? That just might be in our future too! We love to travel, so I’m sure we will visit many new countries in the coming years. I know I will look for volunteer opportunities in my new community because that is what I was brought up doing and what I have always done.

Editor’s note: Interview responses have been edited for length and clarity.

(Candide Uyanze worked as a communications assistant during the summer of 2017)