Updated: Mar 22, 2019
Do you care about literacy? Equality? Human Rights? Sustainability in rural communities? The future of the economy? Education? If any of those things pull at your heartstrings even a little bit, then you should care that the Manitoba government just announced the closure of the Manitoba Curriculum Support Centre, previously known as the Manitoba Education Library.
Even if you’re not from Manitoba or Canada.
Even if you’re not an educator or a parent.
If you care about children and their right to an education, then this is important to you. When I read the CBC article Closing educational resource library act of 'bad faith' by province, union says, I was disappointed by the lack of depth to the article, I felt the CBC also didn’t understand what was being taken away from the children of this province.
Teachers and students all across Manitoba are losing access to physical books and resources on all topics covered in the curriculum from kindergarten to grade 12. This includes, but isn’t limited to braille books, large print formats, models, hands on learning kits, posters, audio books, games and manipulatives. With this swipe of the provincial knife, teachers and homeschooling parents are losing the ability to access what they need to support the learning of all students in all subject areas.
The province believes that all of these physical resources with the trained staff to help navigate them and a distribution system that puts these resources into classrooms anywhere in the province within days of requesting them, can be replaced with online access to electronic books. Can you imagine a kindergarten class where all the kids are learning about their community by sitting and staring at computer screens? This also implies to me that the province believes that each classroom in our province has access to enough devices to keep all students reading ebooks. Perhaps the Premier of the province and his education minister have never actually stepped foot inside a provincially funded classroom? Even if there were a classroom with enough devices to ensure all the students could access ebooks at any time, is there a classroom with enough adult support to ensure that all those students are staying on those ebooks rather than straying to the greater world of the Internet?
An important part of teaching, is actively engaging students on a subject. What is going to be more engaging to a learner, a model of the brain with a poster and a fact game, or an ebook that they can read when they have access to a computer? Children are not robots. We cannot input electronic information and expect them to upload the crucial data without ever being engaged. Children are thinking, feeling beings who have five senses that should all be activated as part of their learning.
In the International Literacy’s 2018 Report the top five important issues are all being negatively impacted by this cut. The top issue is early literacy which is often defined as what kids know about reading and writing before they actually read and write. These cuts will affect early literacy in two ways. First, kindergarten and the beginning of grade one are part of early literacy and are also part of the students who will no longer have access to the physical resources offered through the Curriculum Support Centre. Second, young children often look up to their older siblings. If their older siblings are engaged with reading and learning through school, it is more likely to become a part of the fabric of the family.
The second and fifth in the top five issues affecting literacy go hand in hand, these are equity in literacy education and access to books and content. Equity in literacy education is a huge area that includes teachers being actively engaged in learning about equity and their own bias, as well as them teaching students to be empowered, to know their rights and to demand to be heard. In order for teachers to be educated and for them to impart this knowledge to their students, they need access to materials. Again, in the cities, there are often other ways of gaining access to resources, but for our rural and northern populations the fountain of books and resources has just been cut off.
Teacher preparedness is the third of the top five issues. I know this may be shocking news, but it is easier for teachers to be prepared when they have access to the materials that support the curriculum they teach.
The fourth issue is strategies for differentiating education, which in plain speak means trying to teach and include everyone. It means looking at each child and trying to figure out what will engage that child to learn. It does not mean ebooks for everyone.
The provincial government has issued a new commission on kindergarten to grade 12 education in Manitoba, the co-chair of the commission, Dr Janice Mackinnon says in the press release, “The commission will serve in the best educational interest of all students, regardless of their abilities, personal or family circumstances, or where they live.” My question to her is, how? Aren’t literacy, numeracy and access to quality learning materials in the best educational interest of all students?
The school library where I work (which is only staffed half-time) has had students and staff check out more than 10 000 books this school year. The Divisional library for the school division in which I work, checked out 553 199 books and resources in the 2017/2018 school year to staff and students. That is literacy. Books in the hands of readers, knowledge in the hands of our next education, this is learning.
Please let the Manitoba Education Commission know what literacy and education mean to you by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, for the commission to consider your submission please include your name and contact information. Hope is us all working together for what is important. Common sense for a better future.