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What’s happening with Education Minister Wishart’s Mandate Letter?

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by Graham Lane

Published in the Winnipeg Sun, June 1, 2018

Two years ago, Premier Pallister gave the new Minister of Education, Ian Wishart, a “mandate letter” charging him with the responsibility to improve the performances of students in Manitoba’s public schools.

The mandate stated that: “you (Mr. Wishart) have a key role to play in delivering on our Most Improved Province commitments. Chiefly, improving student performance outcomes by focusing on early years reading improvements and other measures so that Manitoba is the most improved province in student results.”

Now mid-way through the government’s term, Minister Wishart advised the deans of education of the Province’s universities that they were not doing an adequate job of preparing teachers to help him meet Manitoba’s needs. In other words, the academic performance of Manitoba students has not improved.

A week later, two deans, Dr. David Mandzuk (University of Manitoba) and Dr. Heather Duncan (University of Brandon) responded to Minister Wishart through an op-ed letter published in the Winnipeg Free Press. They said that they were meeting expectations for diversity, but they had no intention of meeting Wishart’s expectations on improving student achievement.

In other words, our universities are not focusing on educating teachers to improve Manitoba student performance. Instead, they are focusing on training a diverse group of students to be teachers.  This means that, with time ticking away until the next election, the Minister of Education will probably not fulfill the Premier’s ask of him – failing partly because the deans of education are not prepared to work with him. As for the result, Manitoba students have a long way to go to become the most improved students in Canada.

With this stand-off, something drastic needs to be done. How about:

  • Minister Wishart could raise the stakes for the deans and their universities. He could tell them that he is preparing legislation requiring all new teachers to pass rigorous certification examinations. The Minister controls the certification of teachers, and research is clear that better educated teachers with high quality certificates would most likely be able to improve the academic performances of students.
  • The Minister could tell the universities that if their education deans decide not to support his objective, their overall budgets will be reduced by, say, 2 percent. This would mean that other senior university administrators would put pressure on their deans of education, and, then, perhaps they would buckle to the Minister’s demand.
  • Finally, the Premier could replace the Education Minister with a tougher person, someone that would hold schools, colleges, and universities to higher levels of account.

In this squabble, Manitoba parents would likely side with the government and not with the education deans. With more and more children being registered in Sylvan and Kumon Learning centres by parents paying big bucks, it is clear those and other parents are increasingly becoming disaffected from the public educational system. It does not help that schools and universities are focusing on diversity when their number one focus should be on student academic achievement.

As well, when businesses look for a place to locate, an important consideration is will they find a well-educated group of potential employees in Manitoba.  If such employees cannot be found in Manitoba, businesses will locate in other places where well-educated workers can be found.

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