The following article was written for and published in the Lethbridge Journal on August 31, 2012.
In Alberta, Catholic Education is publicly funded. This has been a constitutional right in Alberta since 1905. This same right is also provided in Ontario and Saskatchewan. For parents and families coming from locations where Catholic Education is not fully publicly funded, this is seen as a tremendous gift. In the communities of Lethbridge, Coaldale, Picture Butte, Pincher Creek and Taber, Catholic Education is provided by Holy Spirit Catholic Schools.
The Alberta education system is well regarded throughout the world. It is recognized as the best system in the English speaking world. There are several reasons why Alberta continues to dominate world rankings in international tests. Locally elected school boards ensure that public education is a high priority in the areas they serve. They provide a community context and have an ability to address local needs. A second reason for Alberta’s strong educational system is high quality teaching. Alberta teachers continue to be leaders in classroom instruction through intensive pre-service programming, high standards and on-going professional learning. Thirdly, Alberta’s curriculum is common for all students. It is robust, diverse and the envy of countries around the world.
A final reason why Alberta continues to be a world leader in education, although rarely highlighted, is the fact that the province supports three publicly funded systems: Public, Separate and Francophone. The three systems are not a duplication of services, but rather provide for excellence because of the existence of both parental choice and division competition.
Parents in the Province of Alberta have the ability to choose within some parameters which publicly funded school system they desire for their children. Parents wishing to access the Francophone system must meet the requirements set forth in section 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. For the public or separate (Catholic) systems, the parameter lies in residency, space and resource availability as well as a desire for a faith based education or not. The opportunity to choose any of the three systems comes without the necessity of tuition fees as is the case for private schooling. Parents desiring a faith based education rooted in the gospel values for their children have the ability to access the Catholic system. This opportunity is provided to both Catholic and non-Catholic students. It is an option that continually motivates Public, Separate and Francophone divisions to provide an educational product that benefits students and the communities they live in as well as it promotes system competition.
Since the majority of educational funding is based on student enrolment, school divisions are continually seeking improvements to attract students. There is a natural competition that develops as each district strives to enhance programming and facilities. As each division seeks improvement, the bar is raised resulting in students and communities being the benefactors of this competition. The competition that develops does not need to be cutthroat in nature. In fact, it is far better when the neighbouring divisions develop strong working relationships. These relationships can then create collaborative practices that further enhance advantages for all students. The school divisions in Southwest Alberta have developed strong collegial relationships, as demonstrated by many partnership opportunities. Excellent practices have been shared, co-created and taught to one another to ensure that students in the area are receiving the highest quality of education available.
The Alberta education system offers parents the advantage of choosing a faith based education for their children without the requirement of tuition fees. Through the high educational standards established by the province, the same robust and diverse Alberta curriculum is taught in Catholic schools. However, Catholic values and traditions are permeated throughout the teaching which enables the Catholic school to live and breathe our faith. Education in Alberta and, in particular, Southwest Alberta is well served by the Public, Separate and Francophone systems.