Alberta’s new Education Minister Jeff Johnson said he’s wants to work towards making the school system more “student focused” and less “system focused” in his address to the Public School Board Association of Alberta during their annual spring assembly in Red Deer Saturday.
“What we heard previously around the province is that Albertans don’t always feel like students are at the centre of our system, of the learning experience, of the decision making process,” said Johnson.
Children and youth should be encouraged and assured they can “learn at any place, any pace, any time,” he said, which is becoming increasingly easy with new technology.
“So why do we tell kids they can only show up and write their final exam on just one day of the year?” he asked, causing the room to erupt in applause.
Johnson challenged everyone to ask themselves “is this good for our kids?” whenever they are making a decision, whether it be labour or school related.
Certain policy changes also have to be made in order to put the students first.
“We’ve got to shift away from our students just memorizing content to applying knowledge, shift away from thinking we’re just in the schooling business. We’re not just into managing schools between 9 to 3. We need to be in the education and learning business.”
Another key point was to focus on capital down the road.
“We’ve got about 88 school projects on the go currently worth about $1 billion. Now that drawfs anything any other province is doing. But as many of you know, it’s not enough,” said Johnson. “When it comes to the amount of students we have coming into the system, the pressures in many of the school divisions, we’ve got to do more and ramp up our infrastructure.”
He noted that stakeholders can’t look at infrastructure in a cookie cutter type of model either.
It is different for every school, just as the funding is different for every school, he said.
Patty Dittrick, president of the PSBAA, said she is “genuinely thrilled” Johnson is the new education minister and pleased he was able to attend the meeting, even though he had a couple conflicts in his calendar.
She presented him with an honourary membership to the association.
“We really do have a supporter of public education in Minister Johnson,” she said.
For Johnson, it was important to make attending the meeting in Red Deer a priority.
“These people here today are the ones on the ground that make the local decisions and deliver the education that make it all so successful.”
Lawrence Lee, chairman of the Red Deer Public School Board, was encouraged by the minister’s speech.
“I think this minister is a minister who listens and responds,” said Lee.
Johnson is the MLA for Athabasca-Sturgeon-Redwater and replaced Thomas Lukaszuk as education minister when he was sworn into cabinet on May 8.
He was previously the Minister of Infrastructure.