Deputy minister of education 'thrilled' with progress on inclusion

Nova Scotia's deputy minister of education says school-aged children are benefiting from the $30 million the McNeil government has put toward inclusion in classrooms during the past two years.

"I'm thrilled with where we are with respect to inclusion," Cathy Montreuil told reporters Tuesday following a 90-minute presentation before the provincial legislature's human resources committee.

During her presentation to the committee, the deputy minister relied heavily on anecdotal proof that the hundreds of extra people hired by the province to implement the changes recommended by a commission in March 2018 have borne fruit.

In her opening address, Montreuil told committee members about a 17-year-old Indigenous student from Trenton, N.S.

"Before I started the Alternative High School in Trenton I was not succeeding very well in school," Montreuil quoted the teen telling a school official. "I felt as if my dreams were falling apart and that I had become a disappointment to my family.

"I cannot stress enough that coming here has been the best school decision I have ever made."

'Fastest is not necessarily the best'

Montreuil also referred to a parent in Cape Breton who offered her perspective to education officials.

"My son hasn't made a friend in years, now he's coming home talking about having conversations with other students," Montreuil quoted the parent as saying. "I am so happy for him."

Montreuil told the committee she is satisfied with the pace of change, 18 months into a five-year initiative.

"We recognize that there is more to do, a lot more," she said. "However, fastest is not necessarily the best."

New Democrat committee member Claudia Chender expressed frustration at not having a clear idea of the government's direction, nor of how many of the recommendations promised in the March 2018 Students First report on inclusion had been completed.

'We can't measure the progress'

The NDP asked specifically for that information in an access-to-information request filed nearly a year ago. It received an eight-page document that was almost entirely blacked out.

"We have the Students First report which tells us what we need," said Chender. "We have a roadmap ... but if we don't know what steps they're taking, we can't measure the progress."

Montreuil told the committee schools are now being asked to collect data in a way that allows them to identify specific problems, perhaps related to specific groups of students, so that officials can pinpoint issues and try to come up with solutions. 

"If in a school you see that there's a group of kids with special education needs that are lagging, it allows you to drill down and say how many of those are needing some more direct instruction in phonics or how many of those need more help with using technology to access reading," said Montreuil.

"So it allows you to get way more specific."

Jean Laroche/CBC

Tuesday's committee was broadcast live to the web for the first time, and all other legislature committees will now be handled in the same way.

Until now, only committee meetings held in the legislative chamber have been able to be broadcast live to the public.

The provincial government recently equipped the committee room to be able to carry their work beyond the walls of the committee chamber.