October 22 was a cool, damp day, but the weather did not dampen the enthusiasm of the approximately 5,000 people who attended the Stand for Education rally at the Alberta Legislature. Sponsored by the Alberta Teachers’ Association and the Alberta School Council Association, the rally brought together people from all parts of the province – teachers, retired teachers, parents, grandparents, children, and other concerned members of the general public — all who wanted to show their support for fully funded public education. This was a family-friendly, respectful, collegial gathering, with face-painting for children, live music, and inspiring speakers.
The president of the Alberta School Council Association, Brandi Rai, stated that the government needs to invest in public education, providing the support which students need. Parents should not be fundraising for things which are essential for schools, but for those extras which are just nice to have. There needs to be equitable access to quality education. The government should view education, not as just another budget line, but as an investment in our future. She challenged the government to put students first.
Sam Hammond, president of the Canadian Federation of Teachers, said there needs to be solidarity between educators and parents. Public education must be a priority leading up to the next provincial election and every day following. There must be no more cuts to funding and no more excuses.
A consultant in diversity, equity, and human rights with Edmonton Public Schools, Rin Lawrence, emphasized that inclusion is the most important part of education. Public education values each person because of their diversity and because they are human.
Etienne Girard, a francophone education student, spoke passionately about the need for smaller classes where individual help can be provided to all students. Never again should a student be unable to ask for help because there is not enough time for everyone. It is time for a change, and teachers must have a say in all decisions made concerning education. The government needs to work with all stakeholders to make public education a top priority.
A Calgary teacher, Cecil Hall, talked about the difference that fully funded public education has made in his life. Regarding the importance of modelling diverse learning spaces, he said that “if students can see it, they know they can be it.” Education is important in modelling appropriate behaviour in difficult situations. The superpower of education, according to Cecil, is that teachers have the ability to see potential in every student and to work to develop that potential.
The rally concluded with remarks by Alberta Teachers’ Association president, Jason Schilling. He reminded us that public education includes public, separate, and francophone schools. Together we all can make a difference. A public education system focused on students can shape the future. Smaller classrooms where students’ diverse needs can be met are essential. A modern, diverse, forward-thinking curriculum, especially one which reflects the calls to action by Truth and Reconciliation Commission, is required. Students today have complex needs, and there must be education funding which fully enables schools to provide support for these students. Lengthy waits for testing to access these supports are not acceptable. Our provincial government must understand that public education is an investment, not an expenditure. Everyone in our society benefits from a strong education system. His challenge to all who attended the rally is to envision the future of public education because education is what shapes the future of our civil society.
As a follow-up to this rally, the ATA plans a series of roundtable meetings in various parts of the province, where participants will be invited to share their vision for public education. Watch for invitations to participate in these meetings, in person or virtually.