Manitoba PCs Name New Minister Of Education

Jillian Enright

Manitoba PCs Name New Minister Of Education

He certainly can’t any do worse than the last one

Manitoba cabinet shuffle

On Tuesday, January 18, 2022, Premier Heather Stefanson announced yet another cabinet shuffle for Manitoba. These latest changes included naming MLA Wayne Ewasko as Minister of Education. The good news is MLA Ewasko actually has experience as an educator, unlike our last Minister of Education who was essentially useless.

During his brief tenure, MLA Cliff Cullen attempted to revamp Manitoba’s entire education system, in the midst of a global pandemic. Bill 64 was a poorly-timed and poorly planned idea that was dead in the water the moment it was announced.

When he did make moves, they were bad ones, and the rest of the time he was invisible. In fact, my very first story published on Medium was an open letter to Minister Cliff Cullen.

He was also completely ineffective when he declared February to be Inclusive Education Month in Manitoba last year, then proceeded to do absolutely nothing, aside from posting a graphic on his social media account. To be honest, he probably didn’t even do that, a PR assistant likely did it for him.

Mr. Cullen did essentially the same thing a few months later, when he declared that October was Dyslexia Awareness Month, and the only action our government took was to change some lightbulbs. Seriously. Some monuments and buildings used red lights to show their “support”, rather than, say… actual funding for students with learning disabilities.

Good riddance, Cliff.

New beginnings

Mr. Ewasko brings much more experience to this role, having worked as a teacher and guidance counsellor for 17 years.

Unfortunately, he takes on this portfolio during public education’s most difficult time in recent memory. Students are returning to school as the omicron variant rages across Manitoba; teachers and school staff are crying out for help, but have thus far received very little.

I don’t know much about Mr. Ewasko, but his online biography indicates that he received the Teacher of Distinction Award from Brandon University in 2008, and grew up on a farm. I’m hoping his professional and academic experience in education will serve him well.

I also hope MLA Ewasko’s experience growing up in the country will help him better understand issues facing rural students, particularly neurodivergent and disabled students.

For example, children who live outside Winnipeg’s perimeter highway (namely, outside city limits) have difficultly accessing supports and services. Some agencies offering supports for neurodivergent and disabled children only accept referrals for families living within the city of Winnipeg.

Issues in rural education

Students who attend rural schools are also supported by less qualified paraprofessionals and support staff, such as Education Assistants (EAs).

Rural schools offer a lower hourly rate for EAs compared to divisions inside the city, while expecting people to drive further to get to work. Many of our schools end up hiring local parents with little to no experience or training in education, let alone competence in supporting students with complex needs.

As a result, both students and these inexperienced EAs are set up to fail. A local parent comes in expecting to “help out” for the day. They are then paired with a student who has a learning disability or complex needs.

As my son wisely observed when he was only 7 years old, the kids who need the most help have adults who don’t know how to help them.

This local parent is not given in-depth information because they’re “only temporary staff” and aren’t privy to certain confidential student information. They’re often not given any training, aside from a rushed conversation with a supervising staff member, who gives them a quick rundown of the students’ needs and the daily school routine.

(And if they’re anything like me, they’ll likely forget most of what they’re told within the first 10 minutes of the day).

It’s not fair to the substitute EA, and it’s certainly not fair to the children.

The kids who need the most help are paired with those least qualified to provide it.

Good luck, sir

I think you’ll need it.

If I may humbly suggest, MLA Ewasko, I encourage you to actually listen to parents, teachers, and other school staff, unlike your predecessor. I have been listening to them, and here are the most frequent questions I’ve been hearing:

  • When are we getting improved ventilation in our schools?
  • How will Manitoba Education support disabled students, meet their needs, and ensure they aren’t relegated due to ongoing COVID concerns?

Lastly, Minister Ewasko, I have an important question: Do you still support Bill 64, or did you only speak out in support of it to present a united front?

It was a great relief to many of us — including advocates, parents, and school staff — when the education reform bill was scrapped, so we certainly hope you will learn from past mistakes and not seek to repeat them.

Welcome, MLA Ewasko. May the odds be ever in your favour, sir.

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Neurodivergent. 20+ years social work and psychology experience. I write about mental health, neurodiversity, advocacy, education, and parenting. Founder of Neurodiversity MB. CYW, BA Psychology.

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