Alberta should adopt a one-school system

Last week David King, the former Alberta minister of education, launched an online petition calling for the abolition of separate primary school systems in the province. While current education minister Dave Hancock stated that there is no impetus to enact such reform, the Gauntlet supports King’s efforts to institute a one-school system. There are two principle reasons for this position.

King argues that having the public and Catholic systems separate costs the province far more money than if the two were amalgamated. Two schools very close to each other– one public and one Catholic– are a common sight in Calgary. If resources were pooled together, the quality of education would be improved because administration and building costs would decrease. The money saved could be reinvested to hire more teachers, repair aging buildings and buy supplies for classrooms.

The second reason is that a one-school system will encourage democratic sustainability, also eventually improving the quality of education. When students of diverse religious, ethnic, cultural and political backgrounds interact, they are less likely to develop prejudices toward one another. In this way they come to understand more about diversity, which is integral to a multicultural society. They are also able to better evaluate their beliefs on topics fundamental for their lives– an important part of the education process. The American philosopher of education John Dewey called learning in this way the “hidden curriculum,” to show that multiculturalism education is often accomplished simply through student interaction, apart from teacher involvement.

Like many other provinces, the Catholic School Board is given government funding because of a government decision from when Alberta was in its infancy. (The separation of Roman Catholic and Protestant schools was established in the British North America Act in 1867, which is a major part of the Canadian constitution.) Most other provinces have since abolished the separate school system. Manitoba got rid of theirs in 1890, Quebec in 1997 and Newfoundland in 1998 (the lattermost after a referendum). Only Alberta, Ontario, the Northwest Territories and parts of Saskatchewan maintain the separation of publicly funded school boards. Ontario is currently witnessing a major push to integrate the two systems, with groups such as the One-School System Network and Education Equality in Ontario advocating for reform.

A common criticism of the one-school system is that it is inadequate to address the education goals that parents have for their children, specifically regarding religious education. These concerns can be addressed, however, by instituting a non-sectarian religious studies class. The academic understanding of various religions can further the goals of the hidden curriculum to promote understanding and respect among diverse students and poses no trouble for the secular mandate of the public school system.

Publicly funded institutions shouldn’t discriminate based on religious belief, yet this is exactly the result of a government school system that guarantees Catholic and Protestant minority rights to a separate education system but not other religions. It is true that this could be remedied by amending the constitution to allow all religious groups equal access to funding. A multiple-school system would be a worse situation, however, as it would further prevent children from learning about different ways of life while also increasing the inefficiency of the education system. The best answer is to adopt a one-school model.

In a report released Tuesday from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, Canada continued its trend of ranking highly in education. Specifically, the report stated that Canada does very well at producing high-quality education regardless of the socio-economic background of students. Also, Canada is unique among OECD members for producing a high-ranking education system without a federal education office, going against popular belief (as in America) that education must be run at the federal level. The fact that education in Canada works well doesn’t mean that is cannot be better, nor does it mean that it’s fair. By adopting a one-school system, Alberta will be able to address both of these issues.

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