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Party leaders outline education priorities

Alberta and Freedom Conservative parties present different visions

October 16, 2018 Kim Clement, ATA News Staff

This article is part of a series aimed at exploring the educational views of Alberta’s various political parties. The Sept. 4 issue of the ATA News focused on Education Minister David Eggen and United Conservative Party education critic Mark Smith.

With a provincial general election expected in the spring of 2019, the ATA News asked the opposition parties for their stance on a number of key education issues.

Alberta Party leader Stephen Mandel said his top two issues of concern are early childhood education and mental health supports in schools. Meanwhile, Freedom Conservative Party of Alberta leader Derek Fildebrandt said he believes in more power for parents and teachers. The Alberta Liberal Party did not respond to a request for an interview.

For Mandel, student mental health is a widespread issue.

“We seem to see so many things materializing these days as a result of mental health challenges and we’re not doing near enough in schools to support this,” he said.

Mandel described the current government’s perspective on education as “relatively narrow,” in that education is defined in the government’s own vision and not necessarily in a broader public vision. 

“People are frustrated with their curriculum review; it’s not as broad based with an ability to have input into it, and they’ve not listened to other people and have been a bit dictatorial.”

On the issue of class size, Mandel said that classroom complexity is a key deciding factor, but he doesn’t think that government should tell educators exactly how big a class should be. 
“Right now you have classes of 35 or 40. I think that’s too big, but 15 is probably way too small,” he said.

But Mandel also stressed that an important determining factor is the presence of trained teacher’s aides to assist teachers.

Mental health evaluation and support systems for students at a very early age is something that Mandel believes is extremely important.

“Have the support systems there to ensure that if students do need it they get the support, and that should be funded from health care, not education.” 

FCP pushes parental rights

Derek Fildebrandt, leader of Alberta’s newest political party — the Freedom Conservative Party of Alberta — said that his young daughter has helped focus his mind from the theoretical to the actual when imagining the best possible education system. 

“When she enters the education system I want to ensure that she’s got the best quality of education possible, that it’s accessible, but also that we’re going to have the choice and flexibility as a family to ensure her education reflects our values,” said Fildebrandt.
When asked about his opinion on the government’s handling of education, Fildebrandt described it as “paternalistic and meddling.”

“The education of our children should be determined first and foremost by parents. A hyper-centralized education system run through a bureaucracy ignores parents, and in many cases ignores the expertise of teachers on the ground.”

The Freedom Conservative Party envisions a decentralized education system with more power for parents to exercise their rights as the primary decision makers, and more power for teachers to make decisions.

Fildebrandt compared the issue of class size with health-care wait times, saying that it’s an issue that will “never go away and won’t ever be dealt with satisfactorily.”

“I know some teachers who are responsible for an enormous number of children and I can only imagine the stress of that and the effect that has on the quality of education, and I know other teachers who have much more reasonable class sizes.”

But as important as class size is, ­Fildebrandt said that it must not be relied upon as the sole metric of success. Focusing on education outcomes is a more important measure, he said.

Although the Alberta Liberal Party did not respond to a request for an interview, its website does list several education-related policy resolutions approved at its April 2018 convention. Those include supports for junior and full-day senior kindergarten programming in all jurisdictions, and combining all separate school districts into a unified public school system. 

Additionally, a recent Alberta Liberal Party news release noted that Alberta is not meeting its recommended classroom size goals, and teachers and parents are worried about students struggling with disabilities, English- language learning needs and mental health challenges.

“Alberta Liberals support increasing education funding to address these issues. We need to implement ­region-specific and grade-specific class size caps. We must hire more teachers and expand the supports available for students with unique challenges. We should put an end to classroom segregation that alienates and isolates those children.” ❚


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