Question Period: 8 April 2016
Source: Legislative Assembly of PEI

Education focus

Dr. Bevan-Baker: Thank you so much, Mr. Speaker.

I’m acutely aware of all the students in the room here today. They will be pleased to hear that in the government’s throne speech, which was really a way the government outlines its plan for the next year of what it’s going to do for Islanders, a big part of that speech was to do with education. We have been hearing from before the throne speech and in the throne speech itself that this government has a new approach to education, to learning, and that approach is, and I quote: Focused on the learner. That’s the phrase that we heard all the time, that education is focused on the learner.

Now, throne speeches are often full of grand ideas with flowery language, but sometimes it’s difficult to know exactly what they mean by that. I’m curious to know exactly what this phrase, focused on the learner, means in this brand new approach to education.

Question to the Minister of Education, Early Learning and Culture: What was our education system previously focused on?

Speaker: The hon. Minister of Education, Early Learning and Culture.

Mr. Currie: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.

At the end of November last year we presented Islanders with a new direction, a clear direction on where we were moving the public education system with the learning partners advisory councils and as I acknowledged in the gallery today, an individual who is leading the first round of conversations with the district advisory councils.

Really the model is a level of engagement. It’s a level of listening and it’s a level of conversation with key stakeholders in our communities across Prince Edward Island. I’m very confident to say that as we move into the next round of conversations with the district advisory councils we’re having unprecedented conversations and listening very clearly to what the needs are of students and parents in communities across Prince Edward Island.

We look forward to the next round of conversation that will be taking place this month and we’ll be setting priorities and policy as we continue to build the new entity which is the new leadership structure in the department of education.

Thank you.

Speaker: The hon. Leader of the Third Party, your first supplementary.

Dr. Bevan-Baker: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.

Of course, we assume that an education system is always focused on the learner so my first supplementary to the education minister: How will your department determine if this new approach is more student focused than the old one?

Speaker: The hon. Minister of Education, Early Learning and Culture.

Mr. Currie: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.

Prior to the direction from our government at the end of November, we had the English Language School Board and we had the department of education. The mandate with the integration of the Eastern Language School Board and the department is clearly a focus on aligning the priorities which has clearly been stated, that the focus will be on the learner.

When I continue to talk about the new structure I will be talking about leading from the middle. There will be a strong focus as we continue to build on the successes of what is currently going on in the public school system. Leading from the middle we’ll be putting a strong focus on a more aligned engagement between teachers and principals in the public school system with the department. As a result the priority will be focused on the learner and (Indistinct) the learning environment and building on the successes in Island schools.

Last week we presented a very open and transparent application process for the senior leadership positions which we are working towards. Our next step on the transition will be to build the senior leadership table which will be reporting directly to the deputy and to the minister, and we’ll continue to staff accordingly as we continue to listen to the district advisory councils, the principals’ councils, and the learning partners councils on policy direction moving forward. It’s an exciting time in Island education, Mr. Speaker.

Speaker: The hon. Leader of the Third Party, your second supplementary question.

Education focus metrics

Dr. Bevan-Baker: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.

A key part, of course, of developing good policy is how we measure that and how we evaluate the success. Do we have performance measures in there to make sure that Islanders are getting value for their tax dollars?

A follow-up question to the minister: What metrics will be used to determine the effectiveness of this new learner-focused approach?

Speaker: The hon. Minister of Education, Early Learning and Culture.

Mr. Currie: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.

As was advertised last week we are certainly putting a very strong focus on accountability. As I indicated there has been advertisement for senior positions. Right now we’ll be identifying the most appropriate and most capable candidates to lead the senior table in the department of education, which we will be forwarding to the deputy.

A key focus in the area will be on achievement and accountability. Once the individual gets in place we’ll be able to more clearly articulate the vision and direction.

As the minister I am very much in favour of continuing to expand the autonomy, but also to continue to raise the bar on accountability in our public system. At the end of the day the quality of our public system is a direct reflection of the quality of the instruction that’s presented to Island students and at the end of the day the future, which is surrounded by us here today in the Legislative Assembly, is our top priority as a government.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.



  1. Walter Wilkins 11 April 2016 at 2:43 pm

    Bevan-Baker asks a clear and important question, “What was our education system previously focused on?” Currie’s response neither addresses nor answers Bevan-Baker’s question. Not even close. Okay, maybe Currie doesn’t understand the word “previous” or he doesn’t understand the question? Who knows? Instead, like a student caught taking a nap, he answers a question he isn’t asked. Yikes, that’s got to sting.

    Okay, don’t give up, let’s try another question, “What metrics will be used to determine the effectiveness of this new learner-focused approach?” Again, crystal clear. And, probably the most important question that can be asked about how public schooling will be delivered. Currie’s response? You guessed it, zero reference to specific metrics or even a vague explanation about how the the effectiveness of the “new learner-focused approach” will be measured and reported to Islanders.

    The irony? If any high school student responded to Bevan-Baker’s questions like Currie has, the very best a teacher could do is dignify the student and ask them to try again, re-take the test . . . or at least ask the student to acknowledge that they do not understand the question or know the answer. There’s no shame in not knowing; there’s even honor in disclosing the fact. A good teacher would then gently explain the meaning of equivocate, and should the student exhibit some receptivity to the lesson, explain why babbling out answers to questions they weren’t asked is sophomoric, embarrassing and just not useful – to anyone. Least of all when the “conversation” in question is about education.

  2. Bill Kays 12 April 2016 at 2:47 pm

    How can we measure the promised progress in our education system? How can we measure government’s promise of accountability and openness if we have no measure to go by. STANDARDS are needed not only in the education system, but also on government’s performance. It is easy to go back in time to the video to listen to the promises made by all parties. What we need is a checklist to measure if government keeps its promises.

    • Walter Wilkins 12 April 2016 at 4:32 pm

      Hey Bill, you ask, “How can we measure the promised progress in our education system?” Well, there is a constellation of ways to measure the promised progress in our education system. Ways to do such measurement are prescribed from right wing/corporate think tanks like the Rand Corporation, The Fraser Institute and AIMS to more balanced and researched metrics prescribed by academic institutions from all over the planet. So clearly, while you ask a good philosophical and pedagogical question, it’s not the more poignant question Bevan-Baker asked.

      Bevan-Baker asked our Minister, the one responsible for measuring progress in our education system, how he and his department will measure our progress. Sort of like asking a doctor how she will measure the recovery of her patient after an operation. Like asking what metrics and diagnostics she will use to monitor and report the progress of our recovery? If we asked a doctor that question and she answered that she was going to advertise for a bunch of people (who knows from where and from what academic background?) to work on it – what would any reasonable patient do? Run like hell, I hope. Yikes!

      Anyway, we’ve been using a white cane to investigate our public school system for decades. But here’s the rub and why I do not applaud the Minister for implying he’ll try to create some capacity around accountability: Given the resources we have, it cannot be done.

      We live on a little island with a population a tad over 140 000 people. Just adding up the faculties of education in North America will yield more than double our population. There are school boards with a larger population. Simply put, PEI does not have the capacity to manufacture a viable accountability system. In my not so humble opinion, to argue otherwise is delusional. More importantly, it is counterproductive and hurting our children.

      The answer – and here’s where the people we elect have to wake up and swallow their political and professional pride – is to broker an agreement with our sister provinces. We have to secure and implement an accountability system from away. Just like we sometimes depend on medical specialists, engineers, researchers and other professionals from away. It’s time to accept our limitations and do the job right; the long term consequences for doing otherwise is tragic.

      Oh, and here’s a neat little lay person’s article on metrics for public schools – it doesn’t have academic rigor and isn’t pragmatically applicable here, but it’s interesting:

  3. Bill Kays 12 April 2016 at 4:22 pm

    The most important part of all the BS fluff surrounding answers is about measuring accountability and government performance. All of the answers from government are being read from a script. We are looking for genuine answers to genuine questions, but instead all we get are confusing, vague answers to questions.


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