On Tuesday, Nov. 5, both opposition leader Ryan Meili and education critic Carla Beck were in North Battleford as part of the NDP’s series of town hall meetings in various communities on education.
On Wednesday, they were back in the legislature in Regina, where Beck grilled education minister Gord Wyant on the “crisis in classrooms.” She pointed to the reactions she received during the town hall meetings to back up her points.
But Wyant took issue with the NDP’s characterization of a crisis. The following exchange ensued in Question Period on Nov. 6 and that was recorded in Hansard.
Ms. Beck:— Mr. Speaker, more spin and more evidence about how out of touch that tired old government is.
And over the last few days, Mr. Speaker, I’ve had the opportunity to hear directly from parents and teachers about what they are seeing when it comes to the crisis in our classroom. One teacher from Moose Jaw told us, “We’re so far behind. Please understand that we have a crisis.” Another teacher said, “Teachers are being asked to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse student group. This, coupled with an increase in class sizes, is a recipe for disaster.”
Mr. Speaker, these are real issues shared by concerned and often overwhelmed teachers. When will this minister finally admit that there is a crisis in our classroom, and better yet, start doing something about it?
The Speaker:— I recognize the Minister of Education.
Hon. Mr. Wyant:— Mr. Speaker, there’s no crisis in our classrooms. Mr. Speaker, the STF [Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation] in their own document that they released earlier this week, Mr. Speaker, says the system’s not broken. I’ve stood on my feet a number of times in this Assembly, Mr. Speaker, acknowledging that there are some challenges in the classroom, and the STF report acknowledges that there’s challenges in the classroom, Mr. Speaker.
That’s why a couple of weeks ago, Mr. Speaker, I announced that we’re going to move forward with a consultation with respect to class size and composition. And just an hour ago I sent a letter to a number of our partners in education asking them to name a representative to take part in that consultation, Mr. Speaker, addressing the very real issues of class composition. The terms of reference will be distributed to the members who get named to that committee, Mr. Speaker. We’re asking for a first meeting, Mr. Speaker, before the end of the month, with a final report to come to me before the end of March.
So for the member opposite to suggest that this government doesn’t understand the challenges that are happening in the classroom, Mr. Speaker, is just plain wrong.
The Speaker:— I recognize the member for Regina Lakeview.
Ms. Beck:— Mr. Speaker, more conversations and more spin. We’re moving on without him. In every community that we go to, we’re hearing the same message — the lack of support, the lack of materials, increasingly diverse needs, a growing issue of violence and bullying in our schools — it’s taking a huge toll on teachers and on students. Teachers and staff put their hearts into helping their students, but they lack the support that they need. Mr. Speaker, frankly they deserve better than the very old and very tired lines from that minister.
One teacher from Prince Albert told us, “Teaching has grown to be such a heavy undertaking. I can’t go to work every day and feel like a failure.” Another, “Lack of respect. As a teacher I have 42 students in my class with no support from an EA.” What does the minister have to say to those that his government keeps letting down?
The Speaker: — I recognize the Minister of Education.
Hon. Mr. Wyant:— Mr. Speaker, I’ve spent a . . . You know, I find it unusual, Mr. Speaker, for the member to criticize me and members of this government for engaging in conversations on a very serious issue when she’s doing exactly the same thing, Mr. Speaker. We want to understand . . . Mr. Speaker, we hear no solutions from members opposite. This government is taking some concrete steps, Mr. Speaker, to deal with the very real issues of class size and composition. I’ve heard nothing from that member, Mr. Speaker. I’ve heard nothing from the STF in terms of putting a process together.
This government’s going to put a process together to deal with a very important issue that’s facing teachers in our classroom, Mr. Speaker. We’re going to continue to do that, Mr. Speaker, because making sure that we address the needs of our children and our classrooms is a top priority for this government.
The Speaker: —I recognize the member for Regina Lakeview.
Ms. Beck: —I guess I need to forward that minister a copy of the Re-Imagine report, and maybe ours to boot. And, Mr. Speaker, it is so sad that not broken, not broken is good enough for that Education minister. Because you know what, Minister? It is not good enough for the people of Saskatchewan. That minister ran his leadership campaign on making education a priority. He used to be a school board trustee, Mr. Speaker, and he should know better, and he should be able to recognize and admit that there is a crisis in our classrooms.
Saskatchewan people were looking to him, Mr. Speaker, for leadership on this file. And it’s sad that he has failed so badly when parents and teachers and students need this government to do so much better today. How is it that that minister, who promised so much when it comes to education, has failed so badly when it comes to our children’s education?
The Speaker: —I recognize the Minister of Education.
Hon. Mr. Wyant: —Mr. Speaker, I’m not sure she’s read this Re-Imagine report, Mr. Speaker, because on the very last page under the heading . . .
The Speaker: —There’s opportunities to enter the debate, and they’re certainly in question period. I recognize the minister.
Hon. Mr. Wyant: —Mr. Speaker, under the heading in this very report, on the very last page it says, what have we learned? The system is not broken.
We have acknowledged, Mr. Speaker, that there are some challenges in our classroom, Mr. Speaker. Now that member’s a former trustee as well, but she’s offered no solutions, Mr. Speaker. She’s offered nothing. She stands in this House day after day after day, stating that this government doesn’t understand the challenges in the classroom.
And I stand up day after day acknowledging that there are challenges that we need to address, Mr. Speaker. And she’s a former trustee. She’s offered no solutions, Mr. Speaker. This government is offering a path forward with respect to dealing with the very real issue of class composition, Mr. Speaker. We’re going to engage our sector partners in a very timely way to make sure that we can develop a path forward so that early in the new year, Mr. Speaker, we’ll be able to come up with a coherent path forward, something we’ve not heard from those guys.