Wyant insists teacher voice will be key in contemplating future of education in the province
In his address to the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation Annual Meeting of Council, Education Minister Gord Wyant assured teachers that their voice will be an important part of navigating the future of public education in the province.
Doubtlessly though, there were many in the audience who shared STF President Patrick Maze’s contention that for all the promises made recently, nothing much has changed.
Wyant conceded he didn’t have ready-made solutions at hand, suggesting that “it is a big ship to turn.” He also underscored that this will not happen overnight and that it can’t be done without the expertise of teachers.
Since assuming the portfolio just more than a year ago, Wyant has talked about resetting the relationship between the Ministry and teachers.
From the podium and in an interview afterwards, Wyant offered that there has been an improvement in those relationships, albeit that there is still much work to be done.
“Sometimes I get the impression that people might misconstrue things, but when I look back to the budget of 2017 [when the sector was faced with a $54 million spending reduction] I think there was been a general thawing and we have had some of the conversations that need to happen. I like to think the government has demonstrated that we are committed to the public education sector. I can tell you the Premier [Scott Moe] is onside.”
Wyant insisted in the interview portion that he is well aware that whatever changes occur in the future in the name of innovation, it can’t be a top-down approach from government.
“We know that right off the top we need there to be buy in from the teachers. I think we have taken the first steps in getting out and talking to teachers around the province to hear their concerns. We know that the first and shared priority is to ensure student needs are being met.
“I know from talking to teachers that there are some complex issues, but in order to tackle these we need to have the voice of teachers included. The more feedback we have, the better it will be for achieving the best possible outcomes for our students.”
Wyant summarized that what he had heard most frequently from teachers was regarding class composition and resources for education as well as the administrative burden faced by many.
According to Wyant, the conversations he has had with teachers confirm to him that there is impressive work being done by teachers.
Wyant cited data indicating that there has been significant progress in terms of the early learning sector and that graduation rates are at their highest rate in the past two decades.
“Again, there is no question that there is work that needs to be done, and I can assure you these are only the first steps. We remain committed to working together and listening to teachers. As a sector we need to look beyond 2020 and how we can co-construct what we want education to look like,” he said. He added that his commitment to public education in the future is not merely a result of his position as Minister, but moreso his role as a father and grandfather, which he referred to as “my North Star.”
Wyant indicated that there are conversations that need to be had about how to be more innovative in the future, while stressing the importance that whatever changes are initiated they need to be done with the intent of improving outcomes.
“I realize it can be a bit problematic in some cases, but we need to be able to track any changes to outcomes. It’s not a matter of dropping a whole bucket of money at it that is going to result in the outcomes we are all looking for,” he said.
Wyant was adamant that he and his colleagues are not being dismissive of the public education sector, insisting that these conversations are occurring every day.
“We know it is the future of the province and education is without question an economic issue. We need to work together and everybody has an agenda but we have to make sure we keep any sort of contract negotiations with teachers separate from what we do in the name of public education,” Wyant emphasized.
“Whatever we’re thinking about doing, it must be with the idea of how to better develop public education in the province and in doing so, help alleviate some of the challenges that teachers are facing in the classroom. There will always be things that need to be re-examined because public education continues to evolve. Working alongside is the only way we can steer this big ship.
“There might be differences along the way, but it is important for everyone in the sector to always remember that we need to do what is best for students. Teachers need to be respected for the shared commitment they demonstrate to those students every day. However the future plays out, we have to remember this is for the long term and changes don’t happen overnight,” he said.