Question re: Education reform - May 19, 2016

Mr. Silver: Thank you, Madam Speaker. The final section of the budget speech for the spring 2015 outlined yet another attempt by the Yukon Party government to redesign our education system: “A New Vision: A Made-in-Yukon K to 12 Education Curriculum”. This was the fourth try in the last 13 years of this government to redesign, make over or change the direction of the Department of Education. Fresh out of the gates, the new plan is now just called “A New Vision”. A common complaint after years of these reviews is a lack of follow-up to measure whether any of the changes are producing better results. Without any goalposts in place, these exercises really become change for change’s sake. A full year after work has begun on a new strategy where the questions of how to measure progress on a new vision’s website come up, the answer simply says, “to be determined”.

Madam Speaker, when does the government plan to fill in these very crucial blanks?

Hon. Mr. Graham: Thank you, Madam Speaker. Working together with our partners, we will be able to come up with measurable indicators to tell us whether or not the project is working. The one thing that we’re attempting to do with this is to involve all partners in Education across the territory and to make sure that the things that we do are operational things that we can not only implement in the very near future, but also have a longer term impact as well. The member opposite talks about indicators and we already have some that are easily measured. One is graduation rates — as well as a number of other things.

We’re working on that with our partners but we’re also not going to rush into publishing things that we’re not sure will work. Again, we will continue to work with our partners and come up with a viable plan.

Mr. Silver: Thank you, Madam Speaker. This government has gone through several reviews and visioning exercises. It has a lot of vision but no necessary follow-through. I must add too that assessment should be up-front when designing new plans. For many years, it has been a case of reinventing the wheel with no impact on students or no measurables to indicate whether or not these actual plans have a better outcome for the students. I don’t want to see this happen again.The exercise started last spring and was very similar to other initiatives that the government has been late on in this mandate — lots of talk and lots of meetings, but not necessarily a lot of product to date.

Another question on the minds of a lot of educators: Is the government contemplating changes to the Education Act as a part of this latest exercise?

Hon. Mr. Graham: Madam Speaker, I am not aware of any changes to the Education Act that are being planned in the near future. If the member opposite is aware of some, I wish he would tell me.

The goal of this process is not to create another report or document. We are trying to build a new vision that adapts, that is a living — I hate to say “living document” — but is something that can adapt to the changing educational world. We are attempting to work with our First Nation partners to ensure that we have First Nation languages — that are truly effective and where children are actually learning their language. We are also working to introduce First Nation culture throughout the schools from grades 1 through 12. We have already done that in a number of areas. In fact, we have been recognized as one of the leaders in this area across Canada. So those are the kinds of things.

We are also making changes to the rural system. We have just had a number of tributes to the rural experiential model, something that is positive and keeping children in schools, and that is another indicator. We want to make sure that children don’t have the high absenteeism that has happened in the past. These are very positive changes. The member opposite should have come with the Member for Mayo-Tatchun and me to the REM in Watson Lake where students were very clear. This is something that —

Speaker: Order, please.

Mr. Silver: Thank you, Madam Speaker. If the minister wants to take me along to a trip, then he should give me a little more notice than a day beforehand to invite me.

To say that the results of the last several reviews that the Yukon Party has undertaken on our education have been mixed — that’s an understatement. Yukoners are following with plenty of scepticism the latest plan from the Yukon Party. It is my view that education doesn’t need another examination or masterplan reform; it needs to implement and assess the work that has already been done. We have gone through this four different times, and not once in those four attempts have we ever reached a stage to assess any of these plans — not the students, the plans. The government has said that an implementation plan will be released in June and that the government will be identifying educators to work with department staff on K to 12 curriculum changes.

Is the government now back to considering a full, made‑in-Yukon, K to 12 curriculum rewrite or has this been scrapped in the new vision?

Hon. Mr. Graham: Madam Speaker, once again the member opposite is obviously not listening to some of the things that have already transpired.

We are talking about multiple pathways to graduation. We are talking about things like experiential learning, which we have already implemented, thanks to two former ministers who are here with us today. Experiential learning, dual credit, rural experiential models — all of these things are helping students, especially in the rural communities, to improve not only their attendance at school, thereby improving their outputs — but also making school a much more exciting place to be for these students. That is part of what is very, very important to children. It is interesting — the member opposite referred to a new school here in Whitehorse, F.H. Collins Secondary School, as a “shiny project”, and, I guess, he would not even want to go ahead with that school and it’s too bad that he doesn’t really care about education — just about criticism here.