Canada @ 150 – Eight big ideas to strengthen public education

By Bernie Froese-Germain

The genesis of public education in Canada and the birth of the Canadian federation have some important commonalities. They are both approximately the same age – public education has its origins in the latter half of the 19th century. More importantly, they are both works in progress, continually evolving to meet new needs and demands, one supporting and strengthening the other.

On the role that public education plays in a democratic society, philosopher and essayist John Ralston Saul eloquently stated that:

Any weakening of universal public education can only be a weakening of the long-standing essential role universal public education plays in making us a civilized democracy.
www.publiceducationnetworksociety.com/the-charter.html

In a similar vein, American philosopher and educational reformer John Dewey observed a century ago that:

It is no accident that all democracies have put a high estimate upon education; that schooling has been their first care and enduring charge. Only through education can equality of opportunity be anything more than a phrase. Accidental inequalities of birth, wealth, and learning are always tending to restrict the opportunities of some as compared with those of others. Only free and continued education can counteract those forces which are always at work to restore, in however changed a form, feudal oligarchy. Democracy has to be born anew every generation, and education is its midwife.
https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/John_Dewey

The historic milestone of Canada’s 150th anniversary is an appropriate time to reflect on the future of public education: what kind of public education system do we need to support the vision of an inclusive, equitable, sustainable, prosperous Canada?

No one could argue that public education doesn’t play a central role in creating our future society – unfortunately, the typical discourse around educational innovation and change too often equates with standardized, market-driven reforms which undermine equity. Teachers’ organizations attempt to provide an important counter-narrative to this flawed mindset.

So, with that in mind, here are some “big” ideas (in no particular order) to strengthen public education in Canada.

  1. Education for reconciliation – In the wake of the release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report and its Calls to Action, CTF firmly believes education is vitally important to the healing and reconciliation process and is committed to working together with Indigenous organizations and our other educational partners toward this end.
  2. The teacher voice – Classroom teachers, the experts on teaching and learning, are best positioned to know what students require to be successful in the broadest sense of the term. As such, it is vitally important to involve and incorporate the teaching profession’s views on educational change. Indeed, Jelmer Evers and René Kneyber, editors of Flip the System: Changing Education From the Ground Up, published last year by Education International (EI), argue that teachers can and should take the lead on education reform. https://www.teachers.ab.ca/Publications/ATA%20Magazine/Volume-96-2015-16/Number-1/Pages/Book-review.aspx
  3. Support for collaborative professionalism – The importance of fostering a system culture of collaborative professionalism to improve teaching and learning is one of the main recommendations of a recent study on the state of professional learning in Canada. According to Andy Hargreaves, “professional learning and development (PLD) is most effective when it takes place within a culture of collaborative professionalism where teachers work and plan together, take shared responsibility for all students’ learning in each other’s classes and schools, and undertake inquiry in teams to solve problems in their schools”.
    https://learningforward.org/who-we-are/announcements/press-releases/2016/12/05/findings-from-a-study-of-educators-professional-learning-in-canada-released-today
  4. Social and economic conditions matter – Socio-economic factors (such as child poverty and mental illness) can have an impact on student learning and educational outcomes. Improving the broader social and economic conditions of children and their families will ultimately benefit learning and the overall quality of public education.
  5. Global Education Reform Movement (GERM) – We need to deepen our awareness and understanding of global education reform and how these changes are impacting our schools and education systems. Features of GERM include school choice (charter schools, voucher programs, etc.), increased competition between schools, test-based accountability, and the narrowing of curriculum. To take one example, the growth of international benchmark testing such as the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD’s) PISA is influencing educational policy and practice in ways that can be detrimental to the goals of public education.
  6. Achieving excellence through equity – The Alberta Teachers’ Association’s (ATA’s) blueprint for educational development in Alberta, A Great School for All (PDF – 1.3 MB), takes a systematic holistic approach to educational change with equity as its foundation. The blueprint contains 12 dimensions of change which “are interconnected and recognize that schools are complex living communities that exist within an ecology bounded by culture, community, socio-economic realities, political environments and global trends and pressures.”
  7. Increase support for diversity – Given the incredible diversity of classrooms and schools – and the richness and strength that lies therein – providing the necessary supports and services for students with special needs including students with mental health problems is absolutely critical.
  8. Stem the growing tide of privatization in/of public education – Over the past two years, CTF has been actively involved in the Global Response campaign, an international effort – coordinated by EI and endorsed at the EI World Congress in Ottawa in 2015 – opposed to the privatization and commercialization of public education. The campaign has two complementary pillars:
    • Advocate for governments to do what they’re supposed to do – act in the interest of the public good with adequate funding, resources and policy to ensure quality inclusive public education.
    • Endeavour to interrupt and stop “edu-businesses” such as Pearson and Bridge International Academies from profiting at the expense of access for all to free quality publicly funded public education.

    As part of the Global Response campaign, the recently launched We The Educators initiative, a series of animated short videos supported by a detailed literature review, is intended to catalyze new conversations about the relationship between educational technology and the privatization, standardization, datafication, and (de)personalization of education.

While not exhaustive by any means, this list does touch on some core issues for the teaching profession in its efforts to ensure the provision of quality public education for all – for the next 150 years and beyond.

*This article was first published in the June 2017 issue of PerspectivesCTF’s Web magazine.

Canadian Teachers’ Federation applauds repeal of anti-labour legislation

June 15, 2017

Ottawa – The Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF) is celebrating the adoption of Bill C-4, the legislation that repeals the previous Conservative government’s Bill C‑377 introduced in 2012 and Bill C‑525 adopted in 2014.

“We applaud the Liberal government for living up to its electoral promise by repealing these anti-labour and undemocratic laws,” says CTF President Heather Smith. “Teacher organizations were among the many labour groups targeted by Bill C-377 which had been pushed quickly through the House of Commons with little debate and no consultation with labour. These measures triggered the CTF “Hear my voice” advocacy campaign with the goal of strengthening the teacher voice in labour rights,” Smith adds.

The Federation also rallied to support the Canadian Labour Congress campaign and joined the chorus of opposition expressed by police associations, the federal privacy commissioner, the Canadian Bar Association and seven provinces who called C‑377 unconstitutional and argued it would cost millions for the federal government to enforce.

“This is wonderful news for democracy and human rights,” concludes Smith.

Founded in 1920, CTF is a national alliance of provincial and territorial Member organizations that represent over 232,000 teachers across Canada. CTF is also an affiliate of the 32-million member Education International. @CanTeachersFed

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Media contact:

Francine Filion, Director of Communications, 613-688-4314

We The Educators — A new conversation about the future of public education

Education systems around the world are now witness to a variety of educational changes and improvements, numerous social and economic disruptions, and the onset of rapid technological advances that were unimaginable in the past. Within this tsunami of change, innovative teaching and learning practices that employ emerging technologies are sweeping into schools and classrooms with the broader goal of transforming student learning.

While technologies present education systems with both significant opportunities and challenges, some of the most profound developments are related to standardisation, personalisation, privatisation, and the datafication of learning.

To this end, Education International (EI), the Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF) and the Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA) identified a need to explore the interdisciplinary research underpinning technology-driven datafication and its effects on teaching and learning around the world.

We the Educators - Educational Technology and the Personalisation, Standardisation, Privatisation and Datafication of EducationThis literature review (PDF – 601 KB) attempts to provide a balanced view of the interdisciplinary concepts under investigation in order to inform an analysis of the converging fields of educational technology and datafication. It is part of a larger project, entitled “We the Educators” (www.wetheeducators.com), which brings the concepts explored in this research to life through video and animation in multiple languages.

It is hoped that this project will stimulate a rich public dialogue—and greater professional scrutiny—around the relationship between the datafication of education systems and the (de)personalization, privatization and standardization of student learning. We invite colleagues and advocates for quality public education worldwide to draw on this research and to use the videos to continue the conversations.

This project is the result of a global collaborative effort of many talented people including Graham Brown-Martin and teams from EI (Angelo Gavrielatos, Nikola Wachter and Mar Candela), the ATA (Dr Philip McRae, Dr Lindsay Yakimyshyn and Dr J-C Couture) and the Canadian Teachers’ Federation (Cassandra Hallett, Bernie Froese-Germain). The collective attention, analysis, support and imagination provided by all of these individuals has brought to life a project with the intention to inform and help to (re)shape the future of teaching and learning.

All of the partners in this project will continue to research and advocate for the conditions of professional practice required to create teaching and learning environments that advance the goal of strong publicly-funded public education systems: to educate all children and youth well.


Please follow, like and connect to these platforms and help us spread this conversation.

Website: https://wetheeducators.com/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/WeTheEducators
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/WeTheEducators
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/WeTheEducators/
Vimeo: http://vimeo.com/WeTheEducators
YouTube: http://bit.ly/WTEyoutube

When crisis for many means opportunity for some: Private profit and the education of Syrian refugees

By Fred van Leeuwen, General Secretary, Education International

The war in Syria has been on the front pages of newspapers for six years now. We have witnessed the plight of those who flee, the long winters in refugee camp tents. But little is said about the fate of refugee children when it comes to their education. Do they have schools to go to? Who teaches them?facebook_Arabic

A new study answers these questions. “Investing in the Crisis: Private Participation in the Education of Syrian Refugees”, conducted by Francine Menashy and Zeena Zakharia from the University of Massachusetts, examines the situation of 900,000 refugee Syrian children who are out of school in their host countries, with enrolment rates ranging from 70 percent in Jordan to 40 percent in Lebanon and 39 percent in Turkey.

Clearly, there is a deficit in access to education for refugee children – and private providers are actively engaging in that space. Naomi Klein, who coined the term ‘disaster capitalism’, outlined how the private sector is quick to respond whenever a crisis or natural disaster strikes. However, in the case of education in such emergencies, little has been known about the scope and aims of private engagement.

This report highlights a surge in private actor involvement in the Middle East since 2015, with 144 non-state actors currently engaged in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. This includes 46 businesses and 15 private foundations, the majority of which have their headquarters in the global north, and 61 percent of which do not have education as their primary mandate.

What other drivers apart from education pull private investment into the region?

In their study, Menashy and Zakharia explore the nature of private sector involvement in the education of Syrian refugees. The study raises questions about the profit motive driving these actors which may be at odds with what is best for refugee children, including their right to quality education. Furthermore, part of the new trend of ‘philanthrocapitalism’, which is increasingly influencing education policies and programmes, is the involvement of private companies in the education of Syrian refugees which may contribute to undermining democratic governance and accountability in education that was once inextricably linked to social dialogue and legislative processes.

While the intervention of private actors may be unavoidable in certain crisis contexts, the study unveils clear areas of concern. Private actors on the ground seem to be insufficiently coordinated, leading to imbalances and duplication of services – a situation which is worsened through inadequate communication between the private actors and the state.

The authors also highlight that private stakeholders often overemphasise the role and presence of technology in education. This emphasis on ICT is questionable given the scarcity of resources, with schools often lacking the most basic infrastructure and tools. Do children need tablets when they have no benches to sit on, no toilets to go to at school? In this regard, governments are well advised to seek and consider the expert voice of teachers and their unions – a vital part of a humanitarian response in education – to ensure that interventions are contextualised and appropriate for the reality in the classroom.

Lastly, the engagement of private actors in Syrian refugee education is translating into political influence, where numerous businesses are becoming key decision-makers in refugee education policymaking. This influence can and will promote an increase in the private provision of education and non-formal education environments. This is deeply problematic due to the overall lack of accountability in terms of educational quality and equity, as previous studies commissioned by Education International have shown.

This report lays bare the undeniable obligation of all governments to ensure that the rights of all children, including refugee children, are met. This includes the provision of free inclusive and equitable quality public education. Beyond this, governments are also required to regulate the involvement of private actors within clear legal frameworks addressing the commercialisation of education in fragile settings. We must challenge the exploitation of those in need. Seeking to profit from those in need cannot be labelled as anything but unethical.

OP-ED: We need to work together to improve our education system

nstu_colourDecember 7, 2016

I just want to take this opportunity to thank Nova Scotians for the outpouring of support teachers have received this past week. At rallies across the province, inside and outside of schools and on-line, the many kind and thoughtful words expressed have been heartening to the NSTU’s 9,300 public school members.

Monday was a difficult day for students and their families, and it was a sad day for teachers. All teachers are committed to providing a safe and healthy learning environment, and the government’s decision to lock out students created an unnecessary burden for parents.

It was because of the thousands who spoke up for teachers, that government reversed course, and allowed students to go back to school.

Teachers want better learning conditions, safer schools and more time to spend helping students instead of doing paperwork. We also have a right to a fair collective bargaining process, something we have been denied by the current government.

It’s for these reasons that earlier this fall 96% of our members voted in support of job action, and it’s why we are currently working-to-rule.

It’s going to take everyone working together to make our education system the best it can be. It’s going to take a lot of change – big and small – to make Nova Scotia’s future strong. We want to talk. We want to listen. But if it takes working-to-rule to accomplish needed investments, we’ve demonstrated we are willing to take that step.

We also want the ability to negotiate for better classroom conditions at the bargaining table. Our children’s future is too important to be wagered on political commitments. Teachers want to see positive measures enshrined so they can’t be taken away with the strike of a pen from the government.

Right now our primary objective is to get back to the bargaining table in order to reach a new agreement that is fair to students, teachers and families. We have been frustrated by the government’s lack of willingness to bargain in good faith, as I’m sure you are frustrated by the lack of a resolution to this situation.

Ultimately, teachers are taking this stand for a better education system. Hopefully soon, the government will come to the table willing to negotiate and not dictate so an agreement can be reached.

Liette Doucet

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For more information, contact:

Angela Murray, PR coordinator, Nova Scotia Teachers Union
902- 479-4708, 902-497-0194 (cell)
amurray@nstu.ca @NSTeachersUnion

Download PDF version (298 KB)

PM and First Ministers urged to focus on child and youth mental health

In a December 1st letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the Canadian Teachers’ Federation urged him and the Premiers to focus on child and youth mental health at their First Ministers’ Meeting on December 9, 2016, in Ottawa. Child and youth mental health has been identified as a top priority by Canadian teachers from across Canada.

Download PDF version (236 KB)

December 1, 2016

The Right Honourable Justin Trudeau, P.C., M.P.
Prime Minister of Canada
Langevin Block
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0A2

Dear Prime Minister,

As you prepare for the upcoming First Ministers’ meeting and the rich dialogue at this important gathering, I am writing on behalf of the Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF) to urge a focus on child and youth mental health. In 2014, CTF surveyed over 5000 Canadian teachers regarding their top priorities; 95% of respondents rated child and youth mental health as their top concern. This is a staggering, yet all too believable, response that should not be ignored.

When you meet the First Ministers, CTF asks you, on behalf of the 231,000 teachers we represent and the millions of students they teach, to provide for adequate mental health care for children and youth in a renewed Health Accord. At the present time, despite Canada’s relative international prosperity and progressive values, many Canadian communities lack adequate resources to provide the preventative and interceptive resources needed to support child and youth mental health and well-being. In isolated communities and for minority populations, the challenges are often further exacerbated by distance, linguistic barriers, and lack of understanding about culture or group.

CTF and its provincial and territorial Member organizations would welcome the opportunity to participate with governments at all levels in discussions about improvements to mental health services for children and youth. Children and youth in Canada have a right to health care and that must include readily accessible mental health care.

In 2012, in collaboration with the Mental Health Commission of Canada, CTF explored the issue of mental health and well-being in schools through a pan-Canadian survey. Over 3,900 teachers responded to the survey including 2,324 elementary school teachers and 1,603 secondary school teachers. The purpose of the survey was to gain a better understanding of the classroom teacher perspective on issues related to student mental health and well-being in Canadian schools, including factors that act as potential barriers to the provision of mental health services for students in their schools (such as stigma for example).

Barriers identified in the 2012 CTF survey included the following:

  • 85% of teachers agreed that a lack of funding for school-based mental health services was a potential barrier, including 59% who “strongly” agreed;
  • 78% of teachers agreed that an insufficient number of community-based mental health professionals was a potential barrier, including 45% who “strongly” agreed;
  • Three quarters of teachers (75%) agreed that a lack of coordinated services between the school and community was a potential barrier, including 38% who “strongly” agreed;
  • Two thirds of teachers (67%) agreed that a lack of referral options in the community was a potential barrier, including 34% who “strongly” agreed.

One teacher respondent summed up the situation we know too well:

  • It is sad when you know there is a concern, or the student tells you there is a concern, you’ve followed the proper protocols, and for whatever reason (lack of services, family declines services for child, fear of stigma, etc.) the student does not get the help they need.

CTF and its 17 Member organizations in each province and territory would welcome opportunities for further dialogue and collaboration to help all Canadian children and youth lead healthy lives in order to achieve their full potential. We wish you a very successful First Ministers’ Meeting and sincerely hope that the mental health and well-being of Canadian children and youth will feature prominently in your deliberations and, ultimately, in a new Health Accord.

Yours sincerely,

Heather Smith
President, Canadian Teachers’ Federation

Cc Provincial and Territorial Premiers
CTF Board of Directors

APEC schools’ model undermines education quality

Teachers’ unions call for greater funding of public education, not private

studentsbeforeprofit-philippines_small

Amid an educational system “overburdened and underresourced,” the Affordable Private Education Center (APEC) Schools, a joint venture of international education company Pearson and Philippine business giant Ayala Corporation, seek to provide for-profit secondary education through an edu-business model approved by the Department of Education (DepEd) raising questions on quality and teachers’ rights.

With over 10,000 students in Grades 7 to 9 and Grade 11, the education chain now operates schools in 29 sites in Metro Manila and nearby provinces. APEC aims to establish 500 schools in 10 years enrolling up to 250,000 students.

Through an agreement signed in 2013, DepEd has in effect waived its existing regulations for private schools in basic education in favor of APEC and its “market-based solutions in order to grow more private schooling …, instead of building more government schools.”

apec-003APEC has been renting unused office spaces in commercial buildings instead of constructing school facilities on purchased land, a practice which would have been in violation of DepEd regulations on size, location and accessibility of school buildings, Riep’s research revealed. Other facilities such as science laboratories, libraries, and gymnasiums are either inexistent, not fully equipped, or shared among APEC schools.

Riep’s study also found that up to 70 percent of APEC’s teachers are not licensed. The teachers are then paid low wages and asked to stick to standardized lesson plans.

In an earlier statement, the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) called on DepEd to repeal its agreement with APEC and for the government to divert to the public education system the P12 billion fund now being allocated to vouchers, which are given to students to attend private schools like APEC.

“P12 billion could have built around 30,000 classrooms and could have catered to more than one million students. Solving the problems of public education is not through privatization schemes. The voucher system is designed to shift money away from public schools and to private schools including for-profit schools such as APEC, making education highly profitable in the Philippines,” said Raymond Basilio, ACT national secretary-general.

He added that APEC’s non-compliance with DepEd requirements for private schools shows how APEC values profiting from students and the voucher system, putting profit before the well-being of Filipino youth.

In the DepEd budget hearing at the House of Representatives on September 2, Education Secretary Leonor Briones said that APEC’s agreement with the department has not been renewed for the present school year and is under review.

Other previous research by EI and Riep has also expressed concern over the growth in countries such as Kenya and Uganda of private for-profit school chains employing unqualified teachers, providing scripted lessons and using unsuitable environments for learning to drive down costs.

Riep’s study titled “Corporatised Education in the Philippines: Pearson, Ayala Corporation, and the emergence of Affordable Private Education Centers (APEC)” can be accessed here.

Media contact:
Raymond Basilio, ACT Teachers: +63 917 638 9151
Curtis Riep, University of Alberta: riep@ualberta.ca

Unite for Quality Education

As a a long-standing member of Education International (EI), CTF has actively participated in EI’s Unite for Quality Education and Global Response campaigns. The purpose is to advocate for governments to act in the public interest with adequate funding, resources and policy to ensure quality inclusive public education and to stop edu-business from profiting at the expense of access for all to free quality publicly-funded public education. What follows is an excellent op-ed by Susan Hopgood, EI President and Fred van Leeuwen, EI’s General Secretary: http://tinyurl.com/unite4ed

UN offers a new educational resource to fight hunger worldwide

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The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has developed a valuable educational resource in the form of a power point presentation designed to inform schools across Canada about both global hunger and the commitment of world leaders to eradicate it (#Zero Hunger) by 2030. This resource is ideally suited to Grades 5 and 6 and would be a great resource through the upper grades and high school.

It is an every-green resource and could be used throughout the year but would have particular relevance to World Food Day, October 16, 2016.

This informative power point has 14 pictures and 4 embedded videos that serve to promote knowledge and understanding of global hunger from a hope-filled perspective. It could be used to build cross curricular competencies, such as problem-solving, student discussion, research, and debate. It could be incorporated into Math (statistics/ a hunger map rates worldwide hunger), Social (Citizenship/social responsibility), Health (Nutrition), Science, and Language Arts curricula.

This timely resource explains why people are hungry, where the hungry live, and what students can do to help. This package includes everyone’s favorite Freerice – the educational game that donates 10 grains of rice for every correct answer! Students and teachers would also be interested to learn of the impressive role Canada, itself, has played in helping combat global hunger!

Also, a live Skype interview is available to teachers to present the resource to students and answer questions about WFP’s work.

WFP is the world’s largest humanitarian agency fighting hunger worldwide. In emergencies, we get food to where it is needed, saving the lives of victims of war, civil conflict and natural disasters. After the cause of an emergency has passed, we use food to help communities rebuild their shattered lives.

You can download the English version here and the French version here.

For more information or to answer any questions please contact:

Julie Marshall
Canadian Spokesperson
World Food Programme
905 818 2664

julie.marshall@wfp.org

Dinner Together

By Andrew King

When Robert D. Putnam penned his renowned essay “Bowling Alone: America’s Declining Social Capital” 21 years ago, he looked closely at the correlation between the drop in bowling clubs and falling democratic participation. Today, it’s our increasingly connected digital world that is disrupting our social fabric.

Herein lies the research of Phil McRae, Executive Staff Officer with the Alberta Teachers’ Association and a professor at the University of Alberta, whose work is focused on tech and its impact on education.

Dr Phil McRae

Dr. Phil McRae, Executive Staff Officer with the Alberta Teachers’ Association and professor at the University of Alberta

During his eye-opening presentation, Growing Up Digital, at the Canadian Forum on Public Education in Montreal, Dr. McRae revealed how the 24/7 reality of smartphones and tablets is having a profound effect on our health, and children set to suffer the most.

“We have to take a long-term look at tech and children, both positive and negative,” said McRae, who revealed how being permanently online is taking a toll on our health and general wellbeing.

In presenting the pros and cons of what is today’s connected reality, McRae used what could be considered the staple of family life, dinner together, to make his point: that our need to be online is robbing adults and their children of real, human connection. Research shows that 73 percent of parents use their online devices during dinner, a moment needed for sharing and communication.

“Neglect is now a bigger issue than abuse in North America,” said McRae, who stresses that we as a society need to learn how to balance technology in our daily lives, and that includes schools. We “must make tech a fabric in the classroom,” but it cannot replace social interaction.

Look no further than the playground, where parents are using up to 30 percent of children’s playground time looking at screen devices. Talk about a distracted generation.

Addicted to tech?

If parents were spending a third of their time at the playground using drugs and alcohol, we would immediately talk about addiction. This isn’t the case with tech.

According to McRae, doctors are reluctant to label excessive tech use as addiction because they worry it would create stigma and it would be very expensive to treat. If medical treatment isn’t the path to wellness, then what do we do? A call to “bring back boredom” is one of McRae’s ideas.

“One of the things that leads to creativity is boredom,” he said, adding that “creativity, motor skills and emotional empathy” are crucial to development. But tech must play a role. McRae says that more research is needed to know exactly how much time spent on phones and tablets can be considered advantageous, and at what age device use should begin.

The best advice he offered to close his presentation was to be balanced; be mindful; and be present. Good advice to a packed room tweeting every word.

(Andrew King is the Media and Communications Coordinator at Education International)