Last week, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) released results of international assessments that showed Alberta’s public education system remained one of the very best education systems in the entire world. Our system ranked third in the world in reading, third in science and eighth in mathematics.
Since the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) began in the year 2000, only a handful of jurisdictions have consistently ranked near the top of the list. These include educational high flyers like Finland, Singapore, Hong Kong, Korea – and, of course, Alberta.
Alberta’s performance on PISA is particularly notable given the diversity of our student population and our commitment to include all students. Education leaders from around the world have visited and studied Alberta to learn how they can improve their systems.
I would like to offer my sincere congratulations and thanks to Alberta’s students, teachers and schools for this outstanding achievement.
But I need to acknowledge that, for years, our system’s excellence has been propped up by overextended teachers and other school staff.
Now many of us are worried about what is going to happen as additional cost restraints are placed on the system. What will happen over the next four years if an additional 60,000 students are added to Alberta schools without any additional funding, without a single new teacher hired to teach them? Teachers will not be able to continue filling the gaps.
We cannot allow this to happen.
In the months and years ahead, the Alberta Teachers' Association will stand up as the defenders of public education in Alberta, and we are inviting parents, grandparents and the public to join us.
We need the government to commit to fully funding public education in this province. We need to have enrolment growth fully funded, without compromising funding in one program to pay for another. We need funding to reduce class sizes and to address the rapidly increasing complexity in our classrooms that comes from a diverse student population with a wide range of learning needs. We need to address the disparity that exists for smaller, rural schools and school jurisdictions.
Ultimately, we need to ensure that the government commits to making the 93 per cent of students who attend public schools (including public, catholic and francophone school jurisdictions) in our province a priority.
But I’m worried about how fake divisions are being created to pit groups of Albertans against each other. In an effort to undermine your confidence in teachers and the public education system, we are seeing attempts to portray teachers and public schools as enemies of Alberta’s vital yet struggling energy sector. These efforts are not fair and often include misleading or incomplete information.
These attempts are intended to undermine your confidence in teachers and the entire public education system. There is no need for this division. It is possible for Albertans to support oil and gas and to love public services, too. In fact, I think most Albertans do.
Most Albertans see through these cynical tactics to divide teachers from their friends, family and neighbours.
We will be standing in the way of attempts to undermine and underfund public education. We will stand in the way of privatization and other ideologically motivated efforts to advance American-style reform. As a result, I expect that the Association will increasingly be used as a convenient target by the enemies of public education.
I hope that you will see through future attacks on teachers and the ATA. I hope that you will stand with us. We have an amazing system that deserves to be protected.
I believe that we fight for what we value, and I value public education.
Jason Schilling, president
Alberta Teachers’ Association