When I was invited to the recent Alberta School Board Association Education Conversation Cafe I wasn't sure which of my various "hats" I would wear. Would I go as a blogger, a parent, a community resident, or the secretary of the Intrepid Junior Blogger's school council? You see I am all those things, and in the end when I attended the very successful, and very interesting, event yesterday I ended up wearing all those hats and speaking as someone from all those perspectives. The cafe was hosted by the Zone 2/3 ASBA, and we here in Fort McMurray are part of that zone, along with many of our neighbouring school boards (and some representatives of those boards joined us yesterday, too, which was great to see as I always love a chance to welcome those from other places to our community).
The Education Conversation Cafe was designed to bring together people from the community - educators, trustees from both the public and Catholic school boards, leaders of non-profit organizations, others who work with children, media, politicians, and interested average citizens - to discuss education, and specifically in this case the funding of it. It was a round table format, with several people at a table, a set of 6 discussion topics, and after each discussion an opportunity to share with the entire group the most pertinent conclusion your table had discovered on each topic (my table very helpfully "voluntold" me as our table presenter, despite my qualms about my public speaking ability and tendency to shake like a leaf when speaking in front of anything more than two people).
Discussing education funding might seem a bit dry and dull, especially if you don't have children in the system, but it's anything but boring. The questions posed are pretty fundamental ones, and they cut right to the core of what we value, what we believe in, and what we wish to see in our education system in Alberta. Education isn't a topic that should be of interest solely to parents - rather it's an issue that should concern us all because those students, whether they are our children or not, are the future of our province, our country, and our world. The education we provide them is the foundation for the rest of their lives, and if you don't think that's important then you and I don't have a great deal in common, really. Education, in my mind, is a fundamental pillar of life - and of community.
The group at the Suncor Energy Centre for the Performing Arts was a diverse one (and on a side note I continue to be amazed at how versatile the space occupied by the new performing arts theatre is - meeting room, live theatre, zumba, concert, dance? Yes, it can accommodate all of those, and more). We discussed questions like whether education funding is adequate and equitable (no to adequacy, and impossible to determine equitability according to my table's thoughts considering how different situations can be from school board to school board). We discussed capital funding, and we discussed how we would make funding adequate and equitable (and let the record show a good number seemed to think resource royalty rates should be looked at again given our strong resource-based economy in this province - but many also believe we should be evaluating our education system and making sure we spend our money in the most effective ways, too, not just throwing more money into it). We discussed some thorny issues, like classroom inclusion for special needs children (thorny in the sense that there are often additional costs associated with these students - the question becomes meeting those costs and making sure all students are adequately funded regardless of their needs). And we discussed early childhood education - junior kindergarten, half-day kindergarten, full-day kindergarten - and how to fund them if we supported earlier entry into the school system.
And while there was supposed to be six questions we ended up discussing only five - simply because we ran out of time. I can guarantee, too, that many of the questions could have been discussed for much longer simply because of their complexity and lack of easy answers. I suppose that's the only suggestion I would have - these education conversation cafes should probably be full day affairs, as on issues such as this I think more time is needed to explore them in depth. Just the surface skimming we did yesterday provided food for thought for many days for me, and I would love to attend a full day conversation cafe to see what ideas come out of it.
I would like to thank the ASBA Zone 2/3 folks for organizing the Education Conversation Cafe, and especially our very own Catholic school board trustee Tracy McKinnon, who took on the task of arranging our local event (they are holding these cafes in other places in Zone 2/3 as well). I think it was not only a brilliant idea but I also suspect every person who attended walked away thinking about the importance and value of education, as well as thinking about the issues regarding adequate, sustainable, and predictable funding for it. Some of the people in that room yesterday probably think about those things every day, but for people like me, not directly involved in education, it was a chance to explore those ideas. And that's why I wanted to share it with you, Fort Mac, because it's one of those things we should likely all be thinking about. Those little faces in the classroom, on the playground, in the Wal-Mart, in the grocery store, and, if you are like me, in your very own house, deserve the best future we can give to them - and it starts with their education. Education is the key to the future - and right now we, the adults of this community, are in charge of that key. Which future will we choose to unlock for them? It's up to all of us.
My genuine and sincere thanks
to Tracy McKinnon for the
invitation to attend the ASBA Zone 2/3
Education Conversation Cafe, and to my
table mates for the great discussions :)