Duncan brings different set of eyes into role as Minister of Education
Less than a month in his new role as Minister of Education, Dustin Duncan referred to the old adage that “it’s like drinking from a firehose” as he was still trying to get a clearer picture of where all the moving parts fit in this portfolio.
This is to say nothing of the challenge of taking this on during the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and all that has meant for schools in the province and the sector overall.
“First and foremost, it’s talking to all the sector partners and understanding what everyone’s priorities are, and I’m trying to get up to speed as quickly as possible. I’m certainly not lacking effort and want to learn as much as I can.”
Interestingly, Duncan cited the influence of his own teachers growing up in the Weyburn area as having helped him to his path in the political arena, which started in 2006 when he was elected as the MLA for Weyburn-Big Muddy at the age of 26. Subsequently, he has been re-elected four times.
His previous ministerial appointments included such high-profile departments as Health, for example. More recently he served as Minister of Environment.
According to Duncan’s initial impressions of the Education portfolio, he has observed a high level of passion from all the education partners.
“I’ve been really impressed with the engagement and passion those in the sector have in wanting to ensure that our students have a good learning experience so that they can pursue their goals and dreams. That has really filtered through in the conversations I’ve had,” he said.
Duncan indicated that his experience as Minister of Health in particular is one he will draw on.
“Absolutely, there are a lot of comparisons just in the nature of what the two portfolios involve. They are the two largest budget lines and both have such a wide influence and affect almost everyone.
“So I’m just trying to determine the right approach; and the other similarity is that in both ministries, there is the day-to-day issues to deal with and they are front and centre. But, you also have to try and take a long-term focus and bear in mind the bigger picture. You can’t lose sight of that fact,” Duncan said.
One of the first people Duncan talked to was, understandably, his predecessor Gord Wyant, who has switched to the Ministry of Justice and Attorney General in the recent cabinet shuffle following the provincial election.
“What I took away from our conversation is how important relationships are and I think that served him [Wyant] well. Building that trust is going to be a big part of that and I’m very much looking forward to working with the different partners. It’s a journey, and like Minister Wyant said, why wouldn’t I want to let profession guide us?” Duncan noted.
The new Minister is already familiar with the general state of the education system including the often-contentious issue of class size and complexity. “I want to dig deeper into the issues facing the system and look for ways to look for improvements,” he offered.
Again alluding to his time as Minister of Health, Duncan indicated that he recalled there has been good work done in terms of trying to reduce government silos. It’s a matter he will be revisiting in the Education portfolio.
“People are not living in silos. So as a government, we have to recognize that and so we should be exploring this further in the future to ensure that the system at the school level can do a better job of providing supports.”
Duncan included mental health issues as one of the areas that needs to be a focus “especially as we make our way through this time of stress and strain. We have to make sure we have the supports we can provide. How do we empower students by building resiliency? And maybe, sometimes how to take a little break from social media.
“Absolutely, I think with this pandemic there are lessons to be learned. When you look at some of the technology equity issues, for example, the system needs to be more flexible and nimble. How do we turn some of the possible shortcomings that exist into opportunities by removing some of the possible barriers.”
Looking ahead, while Duncan has never been a teacher or trustee, he is looking at this through the eyes of the eldest of he and wife Amanda’s three children, who is just entering Grade 1.
“So I come at this with a different set of eyes. I think obviously there would be benefits of having had the experience, but I don’t look at it as a detriment. I’m not coming into the role with preconceived ideas. I’m looking at it as a parent and we will be on this journey together.”