Catastrophic Failure |


School closings are a symptom and only part of the bigger problem with Nova Scotia’s education system.

Consultants advising the Halifax School Board on what to do about its facilities over the next 10 years say the cost of constructing and renovating schools could be $300 million. The physical infrastructure has been neglected and allowed to crumble.

What no one is talking about is how the education system itself has been allowed to crumble.

Plants and factories across Nova Scotia are closing and production is being moved to the developing world where wages are lower. Many of these developing countries, India and China in particular, are pushing math and science education for ages K-12.

In Nova Scotia, the education department reported recently that half of Grade 12 students failed math last year. It was the banner headline in the Halifax newspaper. The next day not a peep was heard. No outcry. No discussion. Nothing. Had that headline appeared in a school district in China someone would have been shot.

Michelin has been complaining to the Department of Education for several years that kids with Grade 12 who come to work for the company fail to get through their training program. The company says Grade 12 graduates can’t do the Grade 8 math that’s required to operate their machinery. The Nova Scotia government can’t give Michelin enough cheap money to stay in the province if we don’t have people to keep their equipment running.

An entire generation of children is being cheated. Without fundamental knowledge of math and science, history and geography, and a good grasp of written and spoken English these children have no future beyond minimum wage jobs in call centers and fast food joints.

Have you talked to a teacher lately? The stories they tell are hard to believe.

Put aside media stories about bullying and violence. The problem goes far beyond that.

There is no effective grading system. There are no standards that clearly identify what a child of a given age is expected to know. Instead, children’s academic standing is based on “public expectations” of what children should be capable of.

If you’re thinking, ‘Huh?’ I’m sorry. I can’t explain it.

No one “fails” a grade. In fact, children are routinely pushed ahead.

Teachers don’t have the resources they need. In some schools teachers receive an allocation of only 1,000 sheets of paper a month.

In many classes kids don’t have textbooks. There is no homework. In other classes, parents complain the children have too much homework.

Teachers say they can’t work from a lesson plan. They have too many children at different levels of achievement in the classroom. As one teacher said to me, “I would have to have 30 lesson plans.”

No one is disciplined. Stability in the classroom depends entirely on a strong teacher and supporting principal.

Special needs children are educated with the general population, in some cases, to everyone’s detriment.

There are plenty of good teachers who love what they do and put their students’ need first and foremost. But the ones concerned enough about what’s happening in their schools say they face punishment if they speak out and get no backup from their union.

The union is complicit in this failure. Its main concern is compensation.

This problem starts with the universities and provincial governments that have been unwilling to make tough decisions. With way more capacity than students, Nova Scotia’s universities will do anything to put students in seats – including lowering academic requirements. Ask any professor. So now we have people teaching in the school system who shouldn’t have received their Bachelor of Education in the first place.

Impossible, you say. Things couldn’t be that bad.

Call me and I’ll introduce you to a friend whose son in Grade 8 failed a test only to discover the boy’s teacher didn’t know the correct answers.

The problem in our schools is not for lack of money. The Halifax board with 53,441 students operates on a budget of $346 million, or about $6,400 a student.

Private schools spend about $4,000 per student.

This catastrophe is the result of giving the public what it wants, instead of what it needs. Our politicians, our universities, our school boards, ourselves – we should all bear the shame of failing to give our children what they need more than anything, a good education.

Ted Sutcliffe is Top Banana at