An organization that wants to see all youth from all backgrounds have equal opportunities and receive equal treatment at school, is asking the leaders of all three provincial parties to pledge that they will work with them to make that goal become a reality.
On Friday, Equity Matters, a coalition of Indigenous, newcomer, racialized, and community-based groups, announced they have kicked off their new campaign, and will now be pushing for a provincial Education Equity Secretariat department to be established in the province before the 2023-24 school year begins.
They want that department to be set up and enshrined in the Public Schools Act to create more diversity in schools, and greater opportunities for all Manitoba K-12 students to succeed and prosper, no matter their own backgrounds, or where they live or go to school.
During a Friday morning press conference in Winnipeg, Suni Matthews, the co-chair of Equity Matters, and a retired school principal, said far more needs to be done at the provincial and government levels to create equal opportunities for all Manitoba students.
She said Equity Matters believes that begins with having one department that is working to see equal opportunities and greater diversity throughout schools and school divisions, rather than having those decisions be left up to individual school boards and trustees.
“I think when you have a person in a position of leadership within the Ministry, than they are setting the example, which will then filter down, as we recognize the importance, and change our structures,” Matthews said.
She said that Equity Matters believes that all students need to see themselves “represented” in what they learn and how they learn it, and that the Secretariat would allow for a more diverse group of people to make decisions, and to create school policies and curriculums.
“We are going to rearrange the chairs to allow for different voices and different faces to be there at the table making those decisions,” Matthews said.
During Friday’s announcement, Equity Matters said they would like to see an Education Equity Secretariat up and running by the start of the 2023-24 school year.
The group also said they have sent letters to the leaders of all three provincial parties in Manitoba, asking them to make a pledge to work towards establishing the department, and they now plan to hold a “pledge-signing press conference” later this month to announce what responses they received from those leaders.
In an email, Manitoba NDP leader Wab Kinew said he has already put his signature on a letter addressed to him by Equity Manitoba, and that he will pledge to work towards the creation of the department.
“The NDP is committed to making schools safer and more inclusive, for everyone,” Kinew said in a statement sent to the Winnipeg Sun on Friday.
In an emailed statement, Manitoba Liberal leader Dougald Lamont said he supports the idea of creating the Secretariat.
“We learned from the Bill 64 debate that 80% of Manitoba students are doing well. It’s the other 20% who are struggling, and focusing on understanding and helping them and their families is good for everyone,” Lamont said.
“It’s long overdue.”
A spokesperson for the Manitoba PCs said the province wants to work with Equity Manitoba on improving diversity in schools, but stopped short of saying if any pledge would be made towards creating an Education Equity Secretariat in Manitoba.
“The Department of Education and Early Childhood Learning is committed to improving academic and well-being outcomes for all students no matter where they live, their background or individual circumstances,” a provincial spokesperson said in an email.
“The Minister of Education and Early Childhood Learning and the department have been working collaboratively with Equity Matters to realize our shared priorities with respect to equity and student success.”
— Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.
Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun