Schmaltz maintains Re-Imagine Education more important now than ever
Approximately a year ago Randy Schmaltz was standing in front of a small gathering in a Regina hotel ballroom to officially share what the Re-Imagine Education initiative had revealed.
Schmaltz, the Executive Director of the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation, was speaking in his capacity as chairperson of the Re-Imagine Education Reference Committee, which had been a combined effort of 19 partners across a wide spectrum. During the nearly year-long process, the outcome was to chart a new course for public education in the province.
Schmaltz outlined the 12 Actions for Education included in the document, emphasizing that “these actions must be acted upon.”
However, the lingering and catastrophic effects of the COVID-19 global pandemic put the initiative pretty much on hold like many other things in the past six-plus months.
Upon revisiting the report, Schmaltz thumbed through the pages while acknowledging “that we’ve lost momentum and to get it back is certainly a challenge while things are pretty much suspended.”
As he read out the specific actions that had been identified, Schmaltz could not help but point out the irony of how in so many ways the document almost incredulously foreshadowed the effects of COVID-19 on the public education sector.
“I think COVID has shone a very bright light on the issues that were identified in the report. While the project has been on hold, I think it’s more important than ever that we collectively pay attention to what the committee had identified as priorities–particularly the piece about providing an equitable experience for safe instruction in our schools.”
Schmaltz pondered how the questions of equity and creating the optimum learning spaces in terms of class size and composition rings even more true in these current times.
In his view, the notion of taking a long, hard look at how education is delivered in the province provides a poignant opportunity to move ahead on the recommendations.
“This whole pandemic has allowed us to pause and reflect on how we deliver education. It creates an opportunity for us to do some things differently and better. It affords us an opportunity to be better than before. We know we can do things differently; we’ve already seen very real examples of that because we had to. So we can look at what might stick from our adjustments because so much of what we used to know has all gone out the window.”
Some factors that have come to light that might not have been top of mind before, including less than ideal ventilation systems in some schools, are just examples of incorporating those lessons, albeit that it will require proper funding.
According to Schmaltz, one thing that has come out of this pandemic, including the time when students were learning remotely from home, is that it has made parents more aware of what it is teachers do on a daily basis, while also getting them more involved in the education process.
“Certainly public safety has to be everyone’s prime concern because we’re all in this together, and I just hope that government is not negligent of the need to move forward because this pandemic has forced us all to have the bigger conversations.
“I would call on those in the system to be bold and courageous but thoughtful as we move forward. Don’t be scared of letting go of some of the old practices if it’s in the best interests of students and staff.”
Asked what he would like to see specifically in the future to signify a genuine commitment to adopting the Re-Imagine concept, Schmaltz said he would see it as a significant step forward if there is more inter-sectoral cooperation among ministries, while also a movement away from the current centralized approach.
“I would like to see a more collaborative approach and for more of a needs-based approach as opposed to the prescriptive model that exists. This would allow schools and communities to come together and deliver what each school really needs. That would be putting public back in public education,” Schmaltz offered.