The world is not standing still and Alberta must do more than keep up to compete. We need to draw ahead and lead the way if we are to realize our full potential. Everyone has a role in this race, but it’s essential that we start teaching Albertans from a young age how to cope in today’s fluid, interlinked world.
However, even as the pace accelerates, large segments of society will be slowing down; unprecedented numbers of people are entering their golden years. Here in Alberta, for every two retirements from the workforce in this decade, there will be one replacement worker or less. It will be today’s youth who will bear the burden of keeping our province at a full sprint.
We need independent, disciplined, creative, analytical thinkers who’ve been immersed in change and will be utterly undaunted when they find the rules shifting almost as fast as the game. We’re only going to get them if we equip our schools in the right way, building on their already formidable strengths to produce a system second to none.
Achieving this will require all ministries and departments that work with students to coordinate their aims and incentives. As Justice Minister, I spearheaded a hugely successful cross-ministry initiative, the Alberta Safe Communities Secretariat, so I understand how to bring together scattered branches of government in support of a long-term goal. I will get the results and effect the changes our students need to keep Alberta in first place.
Putting Students First
Students must be at the heart of any reform, freed from the one-size-fits-all attitudes of the past. This requires:
- Student-focused learning tailored to individual needs and interests;
- Mentorship opportunities enabling students to learn valuable lessons from seasoned professionals, seniors and experts in their community;
- Close links with post-secondary universities, colleges and trade schools to allow students to obtain dual credits, better preparing them for higher studies;
- Regular but sensitive measurements of academic performance and expected outcomes;
- An end to provincial achievement tests for Grades 3 and 6, as these are too stressful for students and do not impart the information we need to measure performance.
Albertans are already well aware of the qualities they want schools to instill in students. They want:
- Innovative thinkers with heightened communication skills and a talent for multi-disciplinary problem solving;
- Honest team players with an openness to other cultures and a strong sense of fair play;
- Global leaders who create opportunities through risk-taking, dedication and discipline in the face of adversity.
I will implement these ideals as they represent both what Albertans expect from their schools and the foundations for taking the province to the next level of excellence.
No on No-Fail
However, allowing students to excel requires that we recognize when they are struggling and offer them help instead of turning a blind eye. As Premier, I will put an end to the practice of social promotion, otherwise known as the no-fail policy.
- Although never sanctioned by the government, the no fail policy is in widespread use in Alberta’s schools.
- A no fail policy promotes students struggling to function at grade level across a range of subjects in a vain attempt to keep pace with their peers.
- This only serves to ensure that students never catch up because their comprehension recedes further as the subject matter advances.
- The no fail policy ironically has the opposite effect, greatly increasing the odds that affected students will leave the education system altogether in high school and contributing to Alberta’s unacceptably high dropout rate.
- I will legislate to end this practice, giving every student the chance to succeed or fail on their own merits.
- If students are to live up to their full potential, some must be allowed to fail, held back so they can improve core competencies.
Open Doors, Always
Students who drop out should not be denied the opportunity to fix their mistake. Every Albertan must have the opportunity to obtain a high school diploma, maximize their earning potential and take on the challenges facing our province. To realize this goal, I intend to:
- Support the government’s efforts to raise to 17 the age at which students can drop out of high school;
- Allow adults at any age to obtain their high school diplomas for free via continuing education, no matter their age or how long they’ve been out of school.
Part of helping students excel involves making sure that that their classroom experiences are suitable; this is especially true of coded or special-needs students.
- Students must be accurately assessed so they end up in the right environment.
- The right situation could involve either exclusion from or inclusion in a classroom environment, depending on each student’s best interests.
- Gifted students must be challenged if they are not to grow disillusioned.
- For example, over 20 percent of Calgary and Fort McMurray’s students are immigrants learning English as a second language. If they and others across the province are ever to participate fully in life in their new home, they must be afforded the chance to master the language before integrating into regular classes.
Schools and the Community
Schools are the backbone of a community, whether they be rural, urban, inner-city, large or small. Every community deserves to have a school that reflects its values and we need to be proactive about preserving, protecting and promoting them.
Accomplishing this requires the government to build schools faster in new communities while maintaining them in established communities. It also requires the public and separate schools systems to work together for the benefit of all students, not just their own. This strategy will increase the range of options open to parents in both systems.
Ultimately, I want to place decision-making power where it belongs — in parents’ hands. Schools play a key role in shaping children, so parents and communities must retain the right to determine their character. Families should not be limited by decisions handed down from on high, forced into exhausting daily commutes, stuck with exorbitant busing fees or left with no option but to send their children to a school which does not share their values because of government-mandated closures.
We have seen some successes in this regard. And there can be more. Separate and public school systems in other jurisdictions already co-operate in communities where neither is able to survive alone. We need policies in the departments of infrastructure and education that will:
- Open up choice to parents by allowing new schools to open in areas where their operation was previously uneconomical;
- Heighten competitiveness by allowing schools which share catchment areas to compete for students and funding;
- Entrench schools deeper into the community by making their support contingent on the vocal desires of parents;
- Allow schools to remain viable even on a small scale where a sufficient population base exists to support them.
I am committed to getting schools built in growing communities and keeping existing schools in established ones. Although this may require separate and public school boards to share facilities, each will keep their respective values intact as they blossom in new areas.
Funding for Schools
One of the issues that has dogged Alberta’s education system for years is the question of funding. In some cases, parents have faced enormous uncertainty over whether their children will even have a local school to attend the following year due to budget cuts. To take the guesswork out of this process, I propose to:
- Maintain stable and predictable levels of funding;
- Ensure that the government continues to take the lead in negotiations with the Alberta Teachers’ Association to avoid system-wide shutdowns and maintain pensions;
- Keep up funding for all staffing levels, as they account for 80 percent of expenses.
Education is the foundation for our future. We need to embrace our opportunities to create the best system in the world. We are experiencing great progress, but we can do more. As Premier, I commit to making education a top priority.
You can contact Alison’s team at 403.264.2001 or 1.855.5.ALISON (525.4766)
You can also contact us via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. We will respond to your email as soon as possible.