Pandemic showing the need for school reforms, says education consultant

·3 min read

Education consultant Paul Bennett says the COVID-19 pandemic has magnified the need for reforms to be made to the education system across Canada.

He said the education system is rigid and inflexible when it needs to be adaptable.

"The system was like a power outage where all the lights went out and parents and students were left alone in their homes and teachers did their best to reach them."

Bennett, the author of the book The State of the System: A Reality Check on Canada's Schools, said the effort to adapt to a three month period of emergency home learning was anything but ideal and certainly not a fair test of online learning.

"But it's continued to be a challenge, and from province to province across Canada."

Bennett said provinces and territories have fared better or worse, and to varying degrees, while trying to cope with the unpredictable situation.

He said New Brunswick did do better in comparison, but it wasn't without its issues.

"About one out of every four students were not served during that period. And we know that about thirteen hundred students … in four of the seven school districts, according to your CBC investigation unit, were completely lost."

New Brunswick did better than most

But a British Columbia assessment ranked New Brunswick as the best in Canada, said Bennett.

He said the reason for that came from the visible, confident and energetic leadership of Education Minister Dominic Cardy.

"Clarity in direction, consistency, not changing your mind, closer collaboration with the New Brunswick Teacher's Association and relatively free of conflicts."

Bennett said that was unlike Ontario, which has been chaotic, and Nova Scotia, which has been characterised by battles between the union and the government.

Submitted by Paul Bennett
Submitted by Paul Bennett

Another thing that helped was having former NBTA president George Daley in the deputy minister's role.

"School was dismissed clearly, and it was not every two weeks. It didn't change every two weeks."

Bennett said being focused on preparing for a successful opening in September 2020 also helped. Having teachers go back in June to help get ready for that success was important.

"It wasn't perfect, but better than most."

But he said the pandemic has shown the education system is a centralised, overly bureaucratic school system, which is characterised by top down decision making.

"And it didn't work when schools were shut down."

4 point strategy

In his book, Bennett argues in favour of a four point strategy to turn things around.

"First of all, I'm in favour of more school–based management and self-governing schools with parents and teachers basically taking more responsibility."

Bennett said schools should be humanized and smaller so there is closer contact with parents and more reciprocal relationships.

"Thirdly, I recommend that we have teaching centred at schools, where we rediscover the importance of teaching and less on learnification."

That's when the concepts of learning become more important than where or how that learning will take place.

Bennett said he thinks the system has lost sight of what's important, which is the relationship between a teacher and a student.

"I believe in family centred schools. What we've learned is you need closer reciprocal relationships with parents, especially in pandemic times."

"I don't think restructuring, decentralizing the school system is entirely the answer. It has to be part of a larger and more comprehensive strategy building back from the schools up."

Bennett said it would be a three to five year process that would start at the school level. He added the pandemic has shown how much everything has changed, even the vision Cardy had for change a year ago.

"Now we know how important technology and broadband and connecting the teachers and the students is. It's brought new priorities to the fore."

Bennett said it's time to start putting students first, speak a language people can understand and build more responsible and responsive schools that are truly engaging and include everyone.

"It's not good enough to kind of build walls and keep people out. That's kind of the argument in the book."