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COLUMN: Students deserve better
Back to school is filled with ironies this week.
It is ironic that teachers are on what they call a strike at the same time the school system undergoes the biggest single effort in many years to boost enrolment – by making kindergarten a mandatory full-day experience for students beginning school. Their strike is confined to not doing administrative duties. They are on duty in the classroom.
It is also ironic that nowhere will full-day kindergarten have more impact on classroom allocation than in Surrey – the largest, fastest-growing school district in the province. In Surrey, approvals for new schools have dropped to zero.
The third irony is that the provincial government is mounting a vigorous defence of its inactions by pleading poverty, as a result of voters rejecting the HST.
Education Minister George Abbott cites the HST vote, when it comes to teacher raises and building new schools. Yet at the same time, this government has forced school districts to pay out large sums to allegedly reduce carbon emissions. This money ends up in the pockets of private companies, and has come directly out of the classroom.
Back to school should be a time of optimism. After all, the education system is a major factor in shaping children into adults and making them good citizens of the future. After all, they will be inheriting the world that their parents and grandparents now live in.
There are many great teachers in Surrey, and they deserve to have the best possible conditions so that students can learn and thrive.
Full-day kindergarten should also be a positive. In an age where information multiplies exponentially each day, young people need to be prepared for it as early as possible. Enough is known about child development to emphasize the importance of learning for a full day.
Yet in Surrey, classroom space is at a premium. Full-day kindergarten requires twice as many classrooms, because two groups of students cannot share one space any longer.
Surrey has many young students who will be going into kindergarten, this year and in coming years.Yet the province has been slow in allowing new schools and classrooms to be built in Surrey, although it did find some money to deal with classroom space needed for the expanded kindergarten.
Despite efforts by many in Surrey to bring this growing imbalance to public attention, the province has been silent when it comes to funding new school construction. The last new school to open, Adams Road Elementary, which opened earlier this year, already has portables on site this September.
Surrey badly needs new schools and additions to some others in fast-growing areas. Development isn't slowing down in Surrey, but the development of school space is.
Both Earl Marriott and Lord Tweedsmuir secondaries are going on a staggered block system this week, to allow more students to be housed in schools that have run out of space. This scenario will only expand in the future if no new space becomes available.
While the province and school district must be cognizant of development and enrolment trends when committing money for schools, and not overbuild, it is obvious that more classroom space will be needed in Surrey for a long, long time.
There are still areas of Surrey which will be developed over the next 10 to 20 years, and the cost of land and housing suggests that there will be many young families will continue to move to Surrey and occupy new townhouses and single-family homes for the foreseeable future.
Yes, there are many areas of the education system which need to function better. That's pretty obvious this September. But a healthy dose of optimism about the future won't hurt.