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OPINION: Focus on poverty rather than pre-primary to solve education problems

School-age children from homes that cannot provide adequately for them are not worried about the education or outcomes they are the recipient of; they are too hungry or worried about basic human needs. This is a common problem; that is why school breakfast programs, food banks and shelters have become so leaned upon today.
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A student benefits from a school lunch program in the United States. Finland, for its part, focuses on prosperity for all its citizens, writes Shawn Hanifen. (Wikimedia Commons)

By SHAWN HANIFEN

Pre-primary programs, committees on classroom conditions, etc. are not the cure for what ails education in Nova Scotia.

Much has been written on the topic of education since the Liberal government announced these initiatives over the past few months.

The pre-primary program — hastily delivered and lacking in substance and detail — unveiled last week is not the answer.

Addressing the needs in our education system is important (inclusion is long overdue). But there is more to the system than student learning conditions, or deciding when to start their formal education.

What the government continues to miss is the role that students' living conditions play in this equation. And this factor, no doubt, has much more of an effect on their educational outcome.

Many observers, including myself, have pegged Finland's education system as a model to follow.

Finland's welfare-state model has not been given the credit it is due in this regard. It has as much, or more, influence on students' performance than the Finnish education system does. Finland focuses on prosperity for all its citizens, and, in addition, provides adequate care for them.

Mahatma Gandhi said that "the true measure of society is how it treats its most vulnerable members" — and Nordic countries like Finland govern with that philosophy in mind.

The government in our province would do well to take its cue from both the Finnish education and welfare systems.

The root problems in education in Nova Scotia aren't remedied by getting a four-year-old to school; much more could be done by addressing poverty and providing better mental (and physical) health supports.

One in five Nova Scotia families lives in poverty — in some areas of our province, the number is over 30 per cent.

Also, there has been a growing number of instances of failed mental health supports for adolescents — in fact, for all Nova Scotians, regardless of age.

Our government is putting in place band-aid initiatives, when a tourniquet is needed.

School-age children from homes that cannot provide adequately for them are not worried about the education or outcomes they are the recipient of; they are too hungry or worried about basic human needs. This is a common problem; that is why school breakfast programs, food banks and shelters have become so leaned upon today.

How many more instances of severe mental health cases do there need to be before the government realizes there are better places to spend our tax dollars than on programs like pre-primary?

This government needs to focus on those initiatives, rather than the educational needs of four-year-olds.

Shawn Hanifen is a physical educator who lives in Hammonds Plains. He served on the NSTU provincial executive from 2012 till 2015.



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