An Investigation into the Nature of Education in a Rural and Remote Region of the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador: The Straits
At the Harris Centre Regional Workshop for Economic Zones 4 and 5 (Southeast Labrador), May 2006, one of the topics raised by local participants was education. The Straits residents attending the workshop identified a number of concerns they felt were undermining the quality of education provided to the children and youth in their region.
Program choices students are making. Concerns were expressed that there appeared to be more students choosing basic or general programs than academic ones;
Limited choices in terms of programs and courses available to students;
Teachers having to teach a wider variety of courses than their urban counterparts and teach outside their areas of expertise and training;
Increased reliance on distance education to provide courses students need to graduate.
Following the workshop, Partners in Learning, a literacy advocacy group in the Labrador Straits, made a written submission to the Harris Centre outlining their concerns and suggesting a research project to develop a rural model of learning. Early in the planning stage, it was decided that the best way to collect data was to talk to the people directly involved in education in the Straits. The project began with a series of conference calls, followed by visits to the communities of the Straits holding focus groups with parents, students, teachers and community members. Following a series of discussions and interviews, the issues identified include: limited programming available in the schools; an increased reliance on distance education; shifting responsibility for learning from the school to the home; program choices students are making (Basic/Academic). Other issues include parent and teacher communication; the Alberta syndrome; declining population, declining enrollment and changing demographics; multi-grading; special education; the future of the Straits.
A number of concerns emerged in this study. There is a concern about the overall quality of education currently provided and a further concern about what may happen in the future. Two interrelated major issues were identified. One is the curriculum – the programs and courses students have access to in the schools; the other is curriculum delivery – the increased reliance on distance education through the facilities of CDLI to provide programs and courses.
The current CDLI model places small schools in a difficult situation, as staff is already fully committed. A modified CDLI model is recommended, with provision for a person who would have dedicated time to work with students taking CDLI courses. This person would act as liaison between the student, the online teacher, the parents and the school’s personnel.
Concerns were also raised about the apparent shifting of responsibility for student learning from the school to the home, the lack of available tutoring in the area, the quality of communication and interaction between the home and the school, and the negative influence on student motivation of the job opportunities in Alberta. Other issues include the absence of parents from the community away for work and its impact on students and their learning, multigrading and the difficulties having children tested in a timely fashion for possible learning problems.
These are all important issues worthy of further investigation. This report limits its recommendations to the issues surrounding curriculum and curriculum delivery, as it requires the immediate attention of CDLI, the Department of Education, and the school districts. The issues identified in this report are not unique to the Labrador Straits. Similar concerns are being expressed in many other areas of the province. That makes addressing them all the more urgent.