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Inspiring Education, Alberta Education, the School Act review

December 9, 2009

Last Friday, December 4th, Alberta Education hosted a meeting that included members of the Steering Committee for Inspiring Education, members of the Working Committee, additional elected representation from various provincial associations, and most of the members of the Alberta Education School Act Review Project Team.  The Minister was in the room for the entire meeting, and made comments from time to time.  His contributions were appreciated by everyone.

The Inspiring Education Steering Committee still has nothing to share, publicly, about their perspective on governance and/or policy.  (They will meet again in Calgary, on Thursday, December 10th, but we don’t expect anything more to become public after this meeting. )

Alberta Education is hosting a closed web-site where members of the Steering Committee and Working Committee (and others who attended the meeting)  can share ideas, questions, and perspectives about the next education Act.  Both the Minister and the Department made a good faith undertaking to explore ways in which such a site could be opened up to the general public.

At the end of the meeting, three important issues remain unsettled.  The first issue is that the Inspiring Education initiative is building on the five core “values”  that were prescribed by Cabinet.  The Steering Committee has added a sixth value, excellence, but they haven’t made any other modifications (additions, etc.) to reflect suggestions from members of the Working Committee or citizens (in the course of the community conversations).  For example, integrity and respect are missing from the list of core values even though they were prominent in community conversations.  Citizenship is described as a core value, but democracy is omitted.

The second unsettled issue is that the Inspiring Education initiative is being implicated in the review of the School Act, even though participants in the community and provincial conversations were not focused on either governance or policy.  The primary purpose of new legislation will be to provide a governance and policy framework for our education system.  Important questions relating to governance and policy were not asked or considered in the course of the Inspiring Education conversations, but these conversations arenow being referred to as a guide for the creation of new legisation.

The third unsettled issue is that there is considerable momentum for an improvement to current trends and the status quo, rather than a dramatic change corresponding to the changes we experience daily in so many aspects of our lives.  For example, it is suggested that the language of the current Act should be retained as much as possible, because it has been interpreted by the Courts, and so its meaning is not subject to much uncertainty.   It seems that there is a desire to be bold and audacious, as long as it doesn’t invite any risk of uncertainty.  And indeed, we have an educational system that is excellent by many measures.  Perhaps we don’t need bold and audacious thinking, in which case we shouldn’t be holding out “bold and audacious thinking” as our stated goal.

It seems clear that the Minister wants a process that is as open as possible, a process that invigorates democracy.  Some of the participants in the meeting left feeling encouraged that we have made progress in our push for an open and transparent process:  we should continue to push the envelope.  At the same time, there are also powerful forces of inertia, inclined to favour further centralization, incremental improvement, and systemization to the exclusion of the public.

We face the same challenge over the substance of new legislation.

The only antidote to inertia is more public involvement.  The review of the School Act needs to be expanded; more Albertans must become engaged in the process.  It is important for people to think beyond the program of studies and the curriculum.  It is important for citizens to ask themselves how they want their education system governed, and how we can build a system in which the schools today and tomorrow will model democracy, bring communities together, and facilitate local self-determination and self-government.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. suehuff permalink
    December 12, 2009 10:45 AM

    Thank you for this informative post. I must say my reaction to the second paragraph, first line, was a loud and involuntarily sigh and expletive! I’m sure I’m not the only trustee in Alberta who feels a little tired of the perpetual “To Be Continued” message. I agree wholeheartedly with the point being raised here (and in other blog posts) that the issue of governance— that is to say, how the education system will be governed and by whom— has never been openly addressed with the public. I am afraid that in the absence an open and direct dialogue on this matter, it could be added to the School Act menu without much fanfare, wrapped up in a phyllo pastry of “fiscal realities” and digested whole by the public.

    I know that members of the public might feel that trustees and the Public School Board Association are speaking in favour of retaining publicly elected trustees out of self-interest and a desire to preserve our own paraticular status quo. This is a point worth raising, although, being a trustee, I would say that it’s hardly a “gravy train” and the work is often very challenging, both emotionally and psychologically. But let’s at least have a discussion about the pros and cons of the current governance structure. Let’s see what could, and probably should, be improved. Let’s discuss the impacts of change in a reasonable and rational manner. Let’s think it through TOGETHER, not merely accept the decision from on high.

    In short, I just don’t think anyone is aware of this issue. The longer the uncertainty remains, the longer the conversation doesn’t happen… the more I fret. It’s not change I fear, as much as change that has not been thoroughly examined.


  2. psbaa permalink*
    December 16, 2009 1:54 PM

    Sue, you raise an important point. Trusteeship does not exist for the benefit of trustees. It is for the benefit of the local community. Trusteeship exists so that communities can exercise self-determination and self-government, especially when direct democracy becomes impractical. After all, stuffing the entire city of Edmonton into your Board room might get uncomfortable! If the community doesn’t see trusteeship as the means of self-determination and self-government, we have at least one of three possible problems. In my view, any one of them is a serious problem.

    Problem #1 –The provincial government may have created a framework for trusteeship that doesn’t really respect and facilitate local self-determination and self-government. For example, the provincially created framework may not allow access to resources to respond to locally identified needs. The provincially created framework may make locally elected trustees primarily accountable to the provincial government rather than the local electorate, and this undermines the significance of self-determination and self-government.

    Problem #2 — The trustees may not understand that their primary role is to represent the public interest to the institution and ensure that the institution conforms to the public interest.

    Problem #3 — The public may not value local self-government; they may not understand that trustees are servant leaders whose work represents self-government; they may not understand that trustees work inside a framework created by the provincial government.

    Sue, I hope that your comment encourages further discussion of this very important issue. I think many of the public don’t understand what is at stake. But many do, and I look forward to their comments.

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