Education reform hobbled by government inaction, says Liberals

It’s education week and the Liberals celebrated by lambasting the government’s feeble approach to education reform.

It’s education week and the Liberals celebrated by lambasting the government’s feeble approach to education reform.

Years of work, hundreds of pages, $1.5 million and the government has no idea when it will implement recommendations from the Education Reform Project report, said the Liberal education critic.

Follow the money and you’ll discover when the government plans to follow up on the report, said Eric Fairclough.

“There’s no money in the budget to implement any of the recommendations,” he said.

And now, Education Minister Patrick Rouble is avoiding questions in the legislature about implementation of the education reform report, he added.

“We want to know (Rouble’s) plans and he should have been very clear by now about how he plans to implement the recommendations,” said Fairclough.

Released in February, the 250-page, $1.5-million report recommends more money for First Nation language promotion and education, the possibility of a First Nations high school and developing a curriculum with more traditional history and culture.

In 2002, the Education department started reviewing the Yukon’s Education Act, but the territory’s First Nations left the process claiming it was incomplete.

The Education Reform Project was launched in response and was tasked with reviewing public school governance, decentralization of decision-making and First Nation-specific issues.

The education act reform project raised expectations for a better education system, but the government’s failing to follow through, said Fairclough in an interview with the News.

“We want to see the implementation of the recommendations and we don’t want more delays,” he said.

“We want some indication from the minister — what are the deadlines, what is the timeline — and in the legislature he seemed unsure.”

The Education department is working closely with the Council of Yukon First Nations and other stakeholders, said Rouble on Monday.

“We’re continuing that relationship with a working group right now that is diligently working and meeting quite regularly to look at the best processes for bringing these issues forward,” said Rouble.

Over two days of questioning in the legislature, Rouble failed to elaborate on specific plans or timelines for implementation.

“We’ll be working with all our partners to implement the best recommendations in order that we can improve the outcomes of our education system for our students,” he said.

Confusion over deadlines can be attributed to contradictory statements from Rouble and Premier Dennis Fentie.

The report focused largely on how much, or how little. First Nations should be involved in school governance.

Under the self-government agreements, First Nations are entitled to independent education.

Mixed messages from the government about how much control the territory is willing to concede has First Nation leaders perplexed, said Fairclough.

“The premier says it’s off the table and the minister is saying it’s on,” he said.

“Let’s be clear on this matter. We need solid direction from the minister, and he has a challenge on his hands if the premier wants to control the reform agenda.”

The Yukon government won’t devolve or dilute public jurisdiction over education to another government, said Fentie on May 8.

“The premier doesn’t get it and he doesn’t understand it,” said Fairclough in the legislature on Tuesday.

“He’s still living in the past and this is very unfortunate for the minister of Education. As we’re all aware here, the premier is the minister’s boss and, if the boss doesn’t get it, then we have a problem.”

The Education department and First Nations have never had a stronger relationship, said Rouble.

“I would be happy to talk about how the government of Yukon is working in conjunction with the Council of Yukon First Nations on the New Horizons project,” said Rouble.

“I would be happy to talk to the member opposite and tell him how those two groups are making joint presentations to the Pan-Canadian Interactive Literacy Forum.

“I would be happy to inform him how those groups will be working with the Yukon Association of School Councils, Boards and Committees.”

The confusion over the governance issue is one more indicator of fraying relationships between the territory and First Nations, said Fairclough.

Added to that is last Thursday’s raucous legislative session where the government voted to keep First Nation leaders off the witness stand during debate of the new children’s act.

“It’s frustrating for them,” said Fairclough.

“What’s happening is a loss of trust in government again. It takes a long time to build that up.”