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Initiatives challenging, but necessary: NS Minister of Education

Zach Churchill, Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development, says the province must do a better job with an inclusive education model.
Zach Churchill, Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development, says the province must do a better job with an inclusive education model.CODY MCEACHERN – TRURO DAILY NEWS



Creating an inclusion model that can properly serve all students without adding undue stress to teachers is the “most challenging” aspect of an ongoing review of the province’s educational system, says Zach Churchill, minister of Education and Early Childhood Development.

“We want to have an inclusive education model but we want one that works for everybody and that makes sense,” Churchill said, during a recent interview with the Truro Daily News.

Twenty years after the existing inclusion model was created, it now has been generally recognized the system is not serving the best interests of all students “and is creating unrealistic pressures on teachers in the classroom,” he said.

“So we have to do a better job having an inclusive education model.”

Churchill said his focus is to “improve the education system to better serve our kids,” and to that end, the department has identified four chief priority areas it is working to address. They include updating the model of inclusion; improving the system of administrative delivery; improving classroom conditions for teachers (so they can focus on teaching); and early learning.

On the issue of inclusion, a commission involving three experts was created last March by former education minister Karen Casey to review current practices and policies with the aim of developing recommendations on improvements and goals and to address funding, resources, professional development, and improve teaching and learning conditions.



Targeted improvements include classroom conditions

The province has also hired Avis Glaze, an internationally recognized expert, to review its education administrative model with the intention of reworking the current system that has been in existence for two decades.

“We do want to do a better job,” Churchill said, to ensure that teachers are working in a manageable environment so they can focus their full attention on teaching.

Glaze is expected to produce a report on that effort by year’s end.

Other areas of improvement the province is working on include improving classroom conditions. To that end, the government has earmarked $1.9 million over the next two years to implement 14 pilot projects aimed at improving student attendance.

Churchill said the policy is designed to identify and address absenteeism before it becomes a problem, while also recognizing there are legitimate reasons for students missing class. Those could include illness or personal family issues or involvement in extracurricular activities.

“And so the real focus of this attendance policy is to identify what those reasons are,” he said, “why those kids aren’t attending and helping them get back to school. Because we know that they do better when they are in class.”

Other initiatives are also in place to look at the child-care activities of children age 12 and younger in an effort to improve early childhood development.

While it is too early to predict the outcome of any of the projects that have been put in place, Churchill said he is optimistic things are heading in the right direction.

“And I really think by achieving success in these four areas we are going to have a transformative impact on the education system that is going to improve the lives of teachers and administrators and, most importantly, is going to ensure that our kids are doing better.”

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