The report has been generally well received by stakeholders, although there are some concerns in terms of implementing its 82 recommendations.
The document was prepared by the educational outcomes task force and covers the province’s K to 12 education system.
Tess Hemeon, manager of community engagement at the Autism Society of Newfoundland and Labrador, said she was mostly pleased by the task force’s findings.
“There wasn’t any huge surprise when we first laid our hands on the report,” said Hemeon. “Pretty much from the first sentence, the report is about inclusion and the fact that it’s not working.”
Hemeon noted that both educators and students come to the Autism Society with issues concerning inclusion. Many of the report’s recommendations, such as the need for small group instruction, mirror what she’s been hearing.
Furthermore, Hemeon also highlighted the report includes many recommendations that have already been introduced in other provinces, effectively bringing Newfoundland and Labrador’s school system on par.
“When we travel to national conferences and interact with other autism organizations across Canada, one of the big things that stands out is that our inclusive education system is not functioning the way theirs is,” she said.
Although she is encouraged by the report, Hemeon said the next step is investing in the province’s education system.
James Dinn, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Teachers’ Association (NLTA), also spoke to the importance of the next step.
“What we see in this document is the opportunity to start having discussions with government as to how we go forward and how we address the allocation piece,” he said.
Dinn, like Hemeon, explained the costs of implementing the recommendations are an investment in the province’s future.
“Anything that is going to help teachers improve the outcomes of their students, we’re for. You get what you pay for in many cases,” said Dinn.
Concerning the specifics of the report, Dinn was encouraged by some elements, such as the emphasis on professional training for teachers, but was also left with questions.
“It still doesn’t address the fact that no matter how much training you have, it still comes down to a resourcing issue. This is what we’re hearing from our teachers,” said Dinn. “It has to do with bodies in the classroom.”
The report also touched on issues facing aboriginal students in the province.
Among the recommendations, the report outlined the need to revise the curriculum to reflect the history, contributions and traditions of aboriginal peoples. It also touched on the importance of further training educators in teaching aboriginal students.
The Beacon contacted representatives from the Mi’Kmaq First Nation Assembly of Newfoundland and the Qalipu First Nation but they were unable to provide a comment at the time of publication.