Reading Between the Lines of New Brunswick’s Education Plan

My biggest problem with the province’s 10-year education plan – calling it a 10-year plan. It creates the expectation that it will set out concrete steps to achieving goals and decisions on major education issues. I think we need way more than 22 pages for that. But I think ‘Everyone At Their Best’ does set up the province for success, if you read between the lines.

The first priority listed is “establishing a culture of belonging.” Empty words, I’m sure a lot of you are thinking. But there’s a lot behind such a statement. In geographic areas with depleted economies – which I think it’s fair to say, despite some great success stories, New Brunswick is – one of the strongest indicators for revitalization and success is pride of place. Having a fiercely loyal connection to a community is what drives people to stay, to create opportunities, to become entrepreneurs, and to affect real change. Isn’t this what we need more of in New Brunswick?

A provincial survey of high school students determined that more than one-third of our teenagers don’t feel a positive sense of belonging in school. If they don’t feel it at school, it’s pretty likely they don’t feel it in the community, either. And that means they have little reason to want to stay. If we want to tackle the out-migration issue of our young adults, we need to start creating those connections earlier. And that’s what this report can do if it does help create a culture of belonging among our youth.

Focusing on the power that comes from having a fierce pride in a place, to have a government recognizing the need to cultivate that from early childhood, is impressive. It might not solve the current issues with language, literacy, and other curriculum and classroom challenges, but it could set us on a path to a stronger economy and higher youth retention rate.

The report’s priorities go on to list things such as fostering leadership and increasing citizenship engagement among youth. By 2026, the goal is to have 100% of students in this province say they intend to vote in elections, and to have 90% of students volunteering in the community. Imagine the changes that could happen in our society if these two goals alone were met. If we, as a province, worked together to raise a generation of young people with decision making skills, who understood how to make their voices heard, and had spent time building connections and relationships with their communities, not just within the walls of the school but within their neighbourhoods. Imagine a graduating class full of students with a sense of pride in where they come from, a pride so strong that they will find ways to stay or be inspired to return with the skills and knowledge they go out and find in the world. This approach to learning could be revolutionary for our province.

The more I think about the priorities recognized by this report, the more optimistic I am about the direction of education in the province. But the more I read the report itself, the more I’m worried that the message is being lost. If it weren’t for my personal connections that include economic geography professors, early childhood education professionals, and youth community workers, I don’t know that I would have seen the potential in this. And that to me is the real downfall of this 10-year plan. The government is missing an opportunity to inspire New Brunswickers. And if we’re not inspired, how are we going to inspire our kids?

She Said appears Saturday in the Times & Transcript and Monday on Pickle Planet Moncton.

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