What are the challenges for K-12 education in Saskatchewan?
 
A summary of the discussion forum sponsored by the SSTA on December 3, 1998
 
Table of Contents
Funding Issues

Saskatchewan's Demographics

Responsibilities of the Education System

Working Together

Responding to the Needs of All Students

The School Program

Staffing Issues

Overview

The Executive of the Saskatchewan School Trustees Association met with its educational partners on December 3, 1998 in Regina to discuss challenges for kindergarten to grade 12 education in Saskatchewan.  The primary purpose of this discussion forum was to identify critical issues for Saskatchewan schools.  The SSTA Executive and staff used this discussion process to assist in identifying research and development priorities.  It was anticipated that identification of critical issues would also be of value to the other partners in education attending the forum.  A secondary purpose of the forum was to facilitate discussion of significant issues among the partners in education in Saskatchewan. 

The 50 participants at the forum included representatives of:  

  • Saskatchewan School Trustees Association (staff and Executive) 
  • Saskatchewan Education 
  • Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation 
  • Faculty of Education, University of Regina 
  • College of Education, University of Saskatchewan 
  • Saskatchewan League of Educational Administrators, Directors and Superintendents
  • Saskatchewan Association of School Business Officials
The challenges for kindergarten to grade 12 education in Saskatchewan as identified at the forum are listed on the following pages.

Funding Issues

Funding for Education - Education funding is limited, yet the demands on the education system are growing.  How can we meet increasing expectations with a limited number of dollars?  Is it possible to spend smarter?  Is the funding of education appropriate relative to the funding of other sectors (health, highways)?  What effects will reassessment have on local funding for education?  What effects will the increase in uncollectable taxes have on local funding for education?  Will financial disparities increase between urban and rural school boards?  What is the appropriate balance between local and provincial funding of education?

School Facilities - School buildings are getting older and budgets are limited.  How can we maintain pleasant school buildings and grounds and supply needed equipment in the face of diminishing resources?  Should we be placing more emphasis on renovation and retro-fitting of school buildings?
 
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Saskatchewan’s Demographics

Demographic Issues - Saskatchewan’s population is aging and becoming increasingly urbanized.  How can quality education, and equality of opportunity and of benefit for students be maintained in the face of demographic changes?  When it comes to school size, how small is too small?  How do we address concerns relating to small classes and split grades in rural areas?  Is it possible to use alternate methods to deliver education in rural areas, for example, technology or busing students to a central point for specialized classes?  What supports do boards of education need when addressing issues related to demographic shifts such as school closures and grade discontinuance?

Northern Issues - Delivery of education in Northern Saskatchewan is more complex because of issues such as difficulty recruiting and retaining staff, difficulties with transportation and communication, and the sparse population.  How do we address the unique needs of the North?  Are changes in capital funding needed?  Should the school program be changed for schools in the North to make it more appropriate for students’ needs?

Child Poverty - In 1996, 20.9 percent of Saskatchewan children lived in poverty according to the National Council on Welfare.  How can we make the wider community aware of the ways in which poverty influences children’s brain development?  Does alleviating child poverty begin by encouraging teenage girls to stay in school and avoid pregnancy?  Can we help alleviate child poverty by improving the lot of parents through education and social supports?  Does early childhood education have a role to play in alleviating the effects of child poverty?  How can we build integrated partnerships and community supports to address child poverty?  Isn’t it time that we stopped talking about child poverty and did something about it?  How do we fund initiatives to address child poverty?
 
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Responsibilities of the Education System

Values and Ethics in Schools - In society today, there is increasing diversity of values and beliefs, and social pressure which can make it difficult to act on positive values.  Do we need to identify and articulate our basic values and beliefs?  How can we demonstrate our values in the face of increasing social pressures such as poverty, violence and drugs?  How do we maintain safe schools in the face of increasing social pressures?  Is education about preventive health care and healthy lifestyles more urgent than ever?

Accountability - Areas of responsibility among the various educational stakeholders are sometimes blurred, which makes accountability more complex.  Should we be working toward greater clarity as to who bears responsibility for educational outcomes and results; e.g., what is the responsibility of parents, teachers, boards, administrators, Saskatchewan Education, other government agencies?  Do the partners in education need to do more toward identifying and communicating their areas of responsibility?  Do we need to communicate the concept of shared responsibility to the public?

Confidence in the Education System - Public confidence is essential to the ongoing success of the education system.  How can public confidence in the education system be maintained or increased?  How can the public be assured that the education system is operating properly?  Do we need to more clearly define our expectations for the school and our indicators of success?  How can we encourage individuals to become personally involved in the school system whether or not they have children in school?  What kind of communication would be most effective at increasing confidence in the education system?  How can we advocate for education?

Renewal and Continuous Improvement - To keep pace in a changing world, individual school systems and the education system as a whole must be continually changing and improving.  How do we identify key technologies and social changes that will influence education?  How can school systems and the education system as a whole stay flexible, so it will be easy to change and adapt?  How can schools continuously improve and yet not be diverted from their mission by short-term social and technological trends?

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Working Together

Sustaining Publicly-Funded Education - We appear to be moving toward a situation where there are four systems of publicly-funded education:  public, separate, Fransaskois, First Nations.  How can we ensure quality education and effective use of resources in the face of increasing fragmentation?  How can we promote cooperation among the systems?  How can we promote cooperation among individual school boards?  Should Saskatchewan Education be establishing expectations around cooperation and funding to reflect those expectations?

Partnerships - Strong collaborative relationships among the partners in education will ensure that resources and energy go into meeting common goals and reduce duplication of effort.  How can we build and sustain relationships among the partners in education?  How can the kindergarten to grade 12 education system partner with universities, SIAST, regional colleges, First Nations groups for the benefit of all?

Integrated Services - Integrated services allow schools to work cooperatively with social agencies to meet children’s social needs as well as their academic needs, to reduce duplication of effort, and to ensure that no children fall through the cracks.  Is it appropriate for the school to coordinate the delivery of services to students who need the support of several social service agencies?  If the school assumes a leadership role in the delivery of integrated services, is additional funding required at the local level?  How do we deliver integrated services to preschool children that the school does not reach?  What is the role of the family, the school, and the community in meeting children’s needs?  How do we involve the entire community in responding to children with many needs?  How do we promote ongoing interagency collaboration?

Parental Involvement - Parental involvement is a key factor in school success.  Children whose parents are interested and involved in their education usually do better in school than children without parental support.  How do we make the school a welcoming place for all parents including Aboriginal parents and parents who live in poverty?  What type of parental involvement is appropriate?  How do we ensure that parents’ involvement is meaningful both for themselves and for their children?  How do we make some school administrators and teachers aware of the value of parental involvement?

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Responding to the Needs of All Students

Equity in Education - The Goals of Education for Saskatchewan recognize the inherent worth and value of each individual and state that education should develop the potential of each person to the fullest extent.  Equity is central to achieving these goals.  How can board members, teachers and administrators better understand the cultural diversity among our students?  How should we be allocating resources to ensure equality of opportunity and of benefit (rural-urban, cultural, gender, northern-southern)?  Is there a need for differentiated funding to address equity issues?  Do we need to revise the Foundation Grant to recognize equity issues?  How can we ensure that teacher education programs place more emphasis on equity issues?  How can we encourage participation and involvement in the education system by groups that have been disadvantaged in the past?

Special Education - Today there are a wide range of special needs children in our schools (multiply handicapped children, children with fetal alcohol syndrome, immigrant children, children for whom English is a second language).  How can we meet the diverse needs of these children?  Can we reduce class sizes to reflect the depth of student needs in a classroom?  How can we involve all social agencies in order to respond to students who have special needs?  What program changes are needed to respond to students with specific needs such as English as a second language or delayed language development?  How can we ensure that teacher education programs address special education issues so that all teachers are equipped to handle integrated classrooms?  How can we provide ongoing teacher inservice education relating to special education issues?

First Nations - The percentage of the preschool and school-age population that is of Aboriginal ancestry is rapidly increasing.  How can we ensure equality of opportunity and of benefit for Aboriginal students?  How can we create partnerships between First Nations and school boards?  What is the role of First Nations and the Métis Nation in governance of provincial schools?  How can we recruit and retain Aboriginal teachers?  How can we improve the relationship between Aboriginal peoples, the education system and individual schools?  How can the history, experiences and culture of Aboriginal peoples be recognized by the school?
 
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The School Program

The School Program - Core Curriculum, limited budgets and an increasing emphasis on results-based education are all affecting the school program.  Do we need to move toward a results-based view of the school program rather than an inputs-based view?  How can we continue to maintain quality in the school program?  What roles do local assistance, instructional resources and student evaluation play in maintaining a quality education program?  To what extent are resistance to change and lack of dollars affecting actualization of Core Curriculum?

Transitions (from high school to post-secondary education and work) - Many high school students do not go to university, choosing technical education or the labour force instead.  Many students who do participate in post-secondary education find the transition from high school difficult.  Do we need to pay more attention to the large number of students who do not participate in post-secondary education?  Should we be focussing less on the transition to university and more on the transition to work and other post-secondary institutions?  Have we forgotten the importance of trades and the role of apprenticeship?  Are our students prepared for the workplace?  Is there a need for better articulation between K-12 and post-secondary education?  Would placing more emphasis on the skills associated with independent learning facilitate transitions?  Would developing all of the Common Essential Learnings in a more direct way facilitate transitions?
 
Technology - Today there is virtually no area of life that is not affected by technology.  Computer skills and familiarity with other aspects of technology are essential for all students.  What is the appropriate role of technology in schools ? as a means of delivering instruction, as an administrative tool, as a subject of study?  Can technology be used to facilitate independent learning by students?  Do we need a province-wide technology plan for K-12 education?  If so, who should lead the development of this plan?  How can schools and school divisions keep pace with technological change?

Alternate Delivery of Education - As rural schools decline in number and become smaller and as student needs become more diverse, we are going to have to consider new ways of delivering education. Can technology be used as an alternate means of delivering
K-12 education, teacher training and teacher inservice?  What new skills will teachers and administrators need if some or all course content is delivered via technology?  What is the potential for compressed courses where high school students study two courses a day, one in the morning, one in the afternoon for two months?  What is the potential for travelling teachers for specialized subjects?  Do we need to do more research about alternate ways of delivering education?  How can we support teachers who have several grades in one room?   Is the one-room school a realistic option for rural areas?
 
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Staffing Issues

Recruitment and Retention of Educational Administrators - Many school divisions are experiencing difficulty recruiting and retaining principals.  Why is this so?  What are the appropriate roles and responsibilities of school principals?  What kind of training do principals need?  Is difficulty in recruiting and retaining directors of education an emerging issue?

Recruitment and Retention of Teachers - Many school divisions are experiencing difficulty recruiting teachers for specialized areas.  What is the relationship between university quotas, large numbers of retiring teachers, out of province recruitment and the difficulties some school divisions are experiencing recruiting teachers in specific areas?  What can be done to alleviate teacher shortages in specialized areas like high school math, science and industrial arts?  What effects do teaching and learning conditions in schools have on recruitment and retention of teachers?  What supports do new teachers need?  Is there a role for formal mentoring programs for new teachers?

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