Rebuilding public education to build a better Canada
When the pandemic closed schools and forced everyone to mask up and begin living and working remotely nearly two years ago, the biggest concern at the time was the virus itself. Little did we know the larger toll COVID would reap within our communities in the months and perhaps years to follow.
Now, as we take steps backwards after beginning to emerge from under the COVID cloud — with the help of vaccines and ongoing safety protocols — this is certainly a new normal, what I’ve heard referred to as the pandemic era. As we know all too well, public education has been at the epicentre of COVID upheaval. In an instant, our understanding of teaching and learning was thrown into turmoil. The daily routines of students, parents, teachers, and administrators were tossed by the wayside both in and out of the classroom.
The country was struck by a paradigm shift that pulled back the curtain showing deep cracks in our social systems. Issues ranging from poverty, gender equity, mental health, truth and reconciliation, and racial discrimination, were left exposed for everyone to see, now impossible to ignore. It quickly became clear that the role of publicly funded public education wasn’t solely preparing future generations to prepare for the future, but also helping to address serious social challenges.
I know how trying this pandemic has been on teachers, support personnel, students, and their families. In too many parts of the country, the burden, from trying to keep everyone safe to attempting to make distance learning workable, has been placed upon the profession’s shoulders, something for which we are all proud and willing to bear, but it isn’t reasonable, and it isn’t sustainable. Though the truth is, it hasn’t been sustainable for a long time.
What we see across the country is an exhausted profession coupled with public education systems teetering like houses of cards as the virus and the scourge of declining mental health have collided head on with chronic underfunding, understaffing, and increasing class sizes. It should not be this way.
Some groups go so far as to say that public education spending is too much. When we see how poorly supported, and overworked teachers and educational staff are, you can’t help but ask what these people think public education would look like with less. Publicly funded public education has been neglected for too long by governments, leaving teachers and school staff to continually apply band-aids to keep the bleeding at bay. The pandemic ripped them off, exposing education and society’s cracks for all to see. It was time to act, and that is exactly what the CTF/FCE did.
Before the latest federal election, we knew that we had an opportunity to make public education a ballot issue. We asked Canadians what they thought, and what they told us humbled and invigorated us. Those polled overwhelmingly shared their support for publicly funded public education, including 90 per cent who consider public education as one of our most important public institutions. And an incredible 91 per cent want the federal government to ensure that access is made possible.
With these polling results in-hand, we launched an advocacy campaign to put key federal issues facing teachers, education support workers, students, and their families on the ballot. Now with the election settled, this is the moment to begin fixing the cracks and restrengthen our public education systems, which is why the Federation is calling on the federal government to create a national table for public education to speak with one unified voice.
The teaching profession, academics, and civil society will be seated at that table to work with provinces and territories to tackle key issues, such as:
- Establishing national guidelines for publicly funded public education
- Developing national standards for emergency preparedness
- Implementing legislation to stop the privatization of publicly funded public education
- Protecting and promoting the French language in minority settings
- And coordinating national programs aimed at poverty alleviation, anti-racism, and truth and reconciliation.
With the full weight of CTF/FCE’s membership, we can begin to right the ship. And although public education may not be in the federal jurisdiction, it certainly is in the national interest. Together we can make our publicly funded public education systems stronger and more inclusive to create equitable education conditions across the country, and, in doing so, start to rebuild what we lost.
To learn more about the campaign’s priorities and more, and to find out how you can encourage your provincial and territorial governments to take action, please visit www.voteeducation.ca.