Sask. classroom crisis fails to inspire government action

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Students suffer as their education goes undebated

MLA Carla Beck’s attempt at emergency debate thwarted

Two weeks ago Saskatchewan Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) and Education Critic for the Sask. NDP, Carla Beck, introduced a motion for an emergency debate surrounding a crisis in school classrooms across the province that would require the government to take immediate steps toward correcting the problem. Beck’s motion was met with silence from the governing Sask.. Party and was quickly dismissed.

In her proposal, Beck stated, “The purpose of the motion is to bring attention to the crisis in our classrooms. If leave is granted, I would move the following motion: that the Assembly recognizes that the Sask. Party’s underfunding of public education has created a crisis in classrooms and that the Assembly calls upon the Sask. Party government to take immediate steps to address this critical pressure facing teachers and students when it comes to infrastructure, class size and composition.”

Throughout the month of October and continuing this month, Beck and NDP leader, Ryan Meili, have been holding “Brighter Education Town Halls” across the province, listening to the concerns of those directly involved in schools as well as concerned community members.

Speaking to concerns that have been expressed at these meetings, Beck noted a universality in the problems facing the education system in Saskatchewan.

“Increasing complexity in classrooms is one thing that we’ve heard right across the province, coupled with a lack of resources. At the same time, the number of supports – be that educational assistants, occupational therapists, speech and language pathologists, psychologists, social workers – all of those supports are decreasing and we are seeing, perhaps not surprisingly, things like an increase in mental health concerns both for students and staff in the schools as well as concerns about increased levels of violence.”

“In the larger, growing school divisions, we are also hearing a lot of concern about class size increases and crowding in classrooms. We have schools that are forecast to be over 200 per cent capacity within the next several years. I know that in Regina alone there are 13 of those schools that are forecast to be well over capacity within the next decade.”

“Aging infrastructure is another piece, so you have these dueling concerns on the capital side where you have not only the need for new schools in burgeoning areas, you also have the need to continue to replace some of the schools that are still needed, but are in need of desperate repair.”

“Those who maybe aren’t around schools assume, “well, I had twenty or thirty children in my classroom and it was fine.” Amongst teachers, amongst parents, there really has been consensus that things have really deteriorated, particularly over the last five years, in our schools. The budget’s getting tighter and the needs [are] growing.”

“We have started using the word crisis – it’s not something that I take lightly. The reason I choose to use that word is because that is the word that we are hearing time and time again from those who are in the classroom. There are a lot of folks who have been doing more and more with less and less and they’re starting to tell us that they just don’t know how much longer they can continue to do it. We heard in our [Brighter Education] survey [that] over 40 per cent of those surveyed indicate that they’ve seriously considered leaving the profession in recent years.

“It’s terribly concerning when we hear consistent messages around teachers cherishing the moments when they actually get to teach their lesson plan because, so often, they are just putting out fires. These are teachers who have dedicated their lives to the profession.”

“Upwards of 80 and getting to 90 per cent of educational assistants (EAs) [are] stating that they felt that their workload has increased over the last several years. None of those who filled out the survey felt that their workload had decreased in any way.”

Other data from the survey showed that 82 per cent of respondents support a cap on class sizes, 86 percent of EAs say they have more students with additional needs than three years ago and 41 per cent of teachers say that they rarely or never have enough supports to meet the needs of their students. The complete results are available on the Sask.atchewan NDP caucus website.

Beck provided her own assessment of the current government’s inability to prioritize education and those in this sector.

“The premier, when he was vying for the leadership of the Sask. Party made a promise to hire an additional 400 educational assistants. We have thousands of additional students and we only have an additional 46 EAs in our system since he made that promise. We actually have fewer social workers, fewer councillors in our schools, fewer speech and language pathologists.

“The main issue that is a thread through all of this, in every community, is the guilt and the burden that staff are facing, be it teachers or be it educational assistants or be it bus drivers. They’re going home at the end of the day knowing that they haven’t been able to give what they so desperately want to give the students in their classroom.

“This isn’t a matter of throwing a few dollars in or holding an Education Week and saying nice things about folks in the classroom – not that those things aren’t important, but this really is a crisis. We have an opportunity with a new decade, a new educational sector plan, an election next year, to really put education on the ballot and have some serious conversations in this province about what it is that we want for our kids.”

Education was a hot topic at the Sask. NDP’s annual convention which was held in Prince Albert from Nov 1-3, as the NDP prepare for next fall’s critical provincial election. In his leader’s address, Meili stated that an NDP government would tackle the perpetual underfunding of schools and cap class sizes for those in kindergarten to grade three, limiting those rooms to have a maximum of 24 students. Meili also mentioned that students needing individual support would be granted such.

“I am so tired of hearing things like ‘this is the best we can do given the budget’ or ‘it’s not so bad, considering.’ We are well past deficiency; we are into the territory now where we are continually ensuring that kids do not have what they need in order to be successful in our schools and the longer we do that, the bigger this problem becomes.”

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