A few decades ago we had hundreds of small schools dotting the PEI landscape, their locations determined by how far a child could reasonably be expected to walk to get there each day. Today, in line with the general trend to centralization of everything, we have a few “families” of schools, and with this week’s recommendations from the Public Schools Branch, a few more of the children in those families of schools are being cut loose as being no longer viable.

The world changes, and constant adaptation is a necessity for all governments, and while I want to make it absolutely clear that I am not advocating a return to the days of one room schools in every small community (many of those communities, like the schools within them, are now gone anyway), I am questioning both the trend to consolidation generally and the specifics of last week’s announcement.

The arguments put forward to support the recommended closures center on two themes – cost savings, and the ability to provide equal learning opportunities for all Island children. I contend that the cost savings are minimal, and the claim that learning outcomes will be improved is unsupportable, so why are we continuing down the path of centralization? The ideology of consolidation hasn’t just brought us an ongoing enthusiasm for school closures, it has resulted in an Island where once hundreds of family enterprises in fishing, retail and farming, have been displaced by box stores, factory trawlers and industrial agriculture.

While it is one thing for the School Board to make recommendations to government, it is quite another for government to accept and implement those ideas. Even if we might save a few dollars in closing these schools (doubtful though that claim is), government must look at this through a broader lens, measuring not only the impact the proposed closures will have on the bottom line of the department of education, but on the collective well-being of our province. I wonder if the education department has spoken to the Department of Workforce and Advanced Learning to see how these closures might impact the province’s population strategy? I wonder if they have spoken to the Department of Economic Development and Tourism about how rural economic vitality will be impacted? I wonder if they have spoken to the Department of Health and Wellness about how this might impact physician recruitment and retention in rural areas? My belief is that they haven’t, because if they did, they would clearly see that school closures and the associated impacts have a devastating effect on the viability of a small community. And let’s not forget that the three biggest sectors of our provincial economy – agriculture, fishing and tourism – are all predominantly rural affairs. The collective economic health of PEI is dependent on both rural and urban PEI flourishing. How can we expect our whole province to thrive when we have a government that continues to make decisions which compromise the well-being of our rural districts?

There is nothing – I repeat nothing – that any child up to grade 6 or so needs in order to receive a perfectly good education that can’t be provided in a small local school. And furthermore, with distance learning, it is now possible to have interaction between teachers and students within and beyond our education system, allowing access to virtually any programming at any school.

Somehow our government is able to see potential economic and cultural spinoffs when shelling out millions of dollars to keep a chronically insolvent golf resort limping along, but can’t see the big picture when it comes to how vital schools are to all aspects of community well-being. If government accepts and implements the recommendations of the Public School Branch, they will be demonstrating their lack of understanding of the interconnectedness of all things, and more importantly their lack of vision for our province.

-Peter

 

6 Comments

  1. Elizabeth Tumblin 16 January 2017 at 5:39 pm

    As a case in point, my grandfather always said the smartest student he ever taught was Arnold Hiltz, who was born and raised in Sea View, and went to the community school (2 classrooms). He went on to get a Ph.D in Chemistry and ultimately did work for NASA.

     
    • olivepei 17 January 2017 at 2:10 pm

      I knew Arnold Hiltz who was your grandfather?

       
  2. david weale 16 January 2017 at 5:40 pm

    Excellent! Love your clear statement that there is nothing….nothing… the young child needs that can’t be provided in a small school. Also your emphasis that schools/education shouldn’t be viewed in isolation. The school is part of a web of being…family, community, health, economy etc…

     
  3. Scott dingwell 16 January 2017 at 5:55 pm

    You had me until you said industrial agriculture

     
  4. W. Wilkins 16 January 2017 at 9:52 pm

    My opinion:

    In other jurisdictions, I have taught in a number of isolated villages, so isolated it was impossible to access by road. I have taught in small communities on PEI – Morell and Cardigan and larger communities, Montague, Charlottetown, Halifax, Montreal.

    I’ve taught in settings as large as 2000 students, as few as 60 students. I was a principal in both large and small schools. I’ve taught at all grade levels from grade one to graduate and postgraduate schools in three universities; in both rural and urban settings, I’ve taught and studied with some of the finest minds of my generation.

    These are the personal and professional experiences I draw upon to formulate my opinion.

    What have I learned? In my opinion, our relationships are influenced, but not determined, by geography. What enables or impedes learning is not so much our location, but rather a constellation of other variables – the most important of which includes empathy, a sense of purpose and a relentless seeking of truth both because of, and despite of, our surroundings and those we find around us.

    It may all boil down to this: Which is more important, where critical learning occurs, or that it occurs? I’m pretty sure we know the answer, but what I don’t know is, for what are we willing to fight?

     
  5. Janet Ferguson 24 January 2017 at 6:36 pm

    Peter, I’m excited about your suggestion. The school as the center of the community continues to be a viable and sensible idea. When I began my teaching career in BC in the late 1970s the Community Schools movement was seen as the answer to integrating and consolidating services and resources in what was usually the largest, newest and best appointed building in the area, the public school. This cost effective approach to supporting communities is currently utilized in many rural and urban areas across Canada and the US including Burnaby BC and Baltimore MD. We would not have to start from scratch to design a successful model. And there is a good deal of evidence that Community Schools work on a number of important levels. For a great example of how the Community Schools model works See http://www.sd41.bc.ca/services/community-schools/

     

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