The coalition wants to commit to creating an office in Manitoba to ensure diversity and equality in education
A group that wants to see more diversity in Manitoba’s school system is calling on the province to create a role dedicated to achieving this goal.
Equity Matters – a coalition of Indigenous, newcomer, racialized and community groups – is pushing for greater representation in Manitoba’s curriculum and education staff.
Echoing a call made last fall, the group wants the province to establish an Education Equity Secretariat — an office that Equity Matters says should be enshrined in the Public Schools Act and would oversee education officers. Equity in Manitoba Schools.
With the new campaign announced on Friday, the coalition hopes to put “a bit of fire at the feet” of Manitoba’s political parties by asking them to sign a new pledge, a representative said.
“Equity Matters was created with the belief that to improve educational outcomes for all students, Indigenous and racialized students must see themselves better reflected in the curriculum and at all levels of staff in the public education system” said Jordan Bighorn, parent representative on the Equity Issues Coordinating Committee, said at a news conference Friday morning.
The group says Indigenous, newcomer and racialized people are underrepresented at all levels of the education system, and they want to see changes at the institutional level to enable change in the classroom.
“If we’re going to change our structure, we’re going to rearrange the chairs to allow different voices, different faces, to be there at the table to make those decisions,” said Suni Matthews, a retired school principal from Winnipeg and co-chair of Equity Matters.
Matthews said it’s important to look at who makes the decisions in the province’s Department of Education, and also to look at who isn’t.
“Take a snapshot of who’s at the table – who are the faces? Are they all faces that represent the diverse demographics of this city and the province? We need to ask these questions.”
The proposed secretariat would oversee research, policy development, curriculum guidelines, anti-racism training and school support to ensure equity for all students, among all schools.
Equity Matters also wants the province to collect data that could help identify and monitor systemic racism within the education system, and wants it to create an accountability report.
“Having very concrete data, then we can look at what to do about it and change that paradigm,” Matthews said.
The group pointed to data released by the Winnipeg School Division last year that showed the overrepresentation of Indigenous students in school suspensions as an example of how data could help guide educators.
This division has also recently created an equity officer position.
The group wants to see a provincial secretariat set up by the start of the 2023-24 school year.
Calls to sign the pledge
Last month, each of the three provincial parties with sitting MPs received a letter asking them to sign an Equity Matters Pledge to demonstrate their support for the establishment of an Education Equity Secretariat.
The coalition will hold a pledge-signing press conference later this month to announce the three parties’ responses, Matthews said.
“We hope that all three will sign it – the present [Progressive Conservative] government and the NDP and the Liberals,” she said.
The idea has the support of more than 80 groups, Matthews said, including the Manitoba Teachers’ Society, five Winnipeg school boards, the Manitoba Association of Superintendents and the Manitoba Association of Parent Councils.
Matthews said it’s too early to know what the potential costs of creating such a role might be, but resources could be redirected to make it happen.
“If we really mean that we want the best results for all students, so that they all reach their full potential…then yes, that will mean investing money in an important initiative”, a- she declared.
“It can’t happen in a vacuum.”