Talking about Our Schools

This past fall, the Ontario Teachers Federation (OTF) sponsored a community forum in Guelph as part of an Ontario-wide initiative to talk about the state of education in this province. OTF members indicated that they had begun to realize that education was being taken for granted, and it was time to look at what could be done to change that attitude.

The Guelph forum was the 20thüsuch across Ontario. A wide cross-section of community members and groups were invited to participate, with the aim of seeking as broad and balanced a range as possible. The 150 or so attendees were divided up into tables of about eight individuals – each table comprising a mix of both public and Catholic Board teachers, students, trustees, administrators as well as various community members.

ûfter introductions, participants at each table were asked to say what they liked about the education system, what they thought could be improved, how excellence could be built, and what they might do following the forum. The discussions were very livily, indeed often impassioned as participants talked about the many important issues in education today.

¡t the end, each table made a brief presentation summarizing suggestions on how to build excellence. Many tables reported similar conclusions. Among these were:

• work to improve relationships among stakeholders
• improve the morale of teachers
• keep education student-focused
• reinstate funding for arts in education – this is not a frill
• keep funding flexible
• to achieve greater accessibility and diversity
3 minimize the political influences upon education
• keep education public (no charter schools)

Participants said they would help spread the message in a variety of ways, including talking to student and parent councils and various community groups such as service clubs and writing letters to their MPPs. Many also indicated that they would like to participate in more such forums in the future.

ûn conclusion, OTF representatives expressed pleasure at the “impressive levels of discussion and the many shared conclusions,” and indicated that they felt they had achieved a strong basis for ongoing discussions with the community. To this end, they indicated that a newsletter is in the works, as is a website which will allow on-line discussions to take place.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Congratulations to the OTF for undertaking this project. Guelph Arts Council was pleased to be part of such a dynamic process and to see so much positive energy being expended on such an important aspect of our society. It bodes well for the future of education despite the troubled times that this province has experienced. We were also delighted at the strong feelings expressed about the importance of the arts in a child’s education. We look forward to the written report that will be circulated to all participants, and will happily share its results with any interested individual or group.
— SW