Rob FlemingAs a parent with young children, I know first-hand the important role our schools play in the lives of kids, families and communities. I see my kids’ growing excitement as a new school year approaches and ask, will the year ahead help them grow as caring human beings and develop the skills they need for the future? As your new Minister of Education, I’ll do everything I can to make sure it does for all children and families.

No investment is more important than a quality education. We need to make sure kids get the time, attention and resources they need to succeed. It’s the key to a better future and a strong economy.

We have had a tumultuous time in the education system over the past 16 years. For too long, students were left behind in overcrowded classrooms, without the learning supports they needed and deserved. It’s time we worked together to do things differently — to invest in public education and look ahead to what a sustainable, strong and properly resourced education system can deliver for all British Columbians.

Our first priority is to make sure students are getting the support they need in classrooms this fall. We will fully cover the costs of the agreement on class size and composition. Districts are creating smaller class sizes and hiring 3,500 new teachers. There are some recruitment challenges, especially for specialist positions and in rural areas. To help school districts hire the teachers they need, we’ve set up a $2-million fund to coordinate recruitment and provide incentives for new teachers, including a national and international effort to attract qualified educational professionals to rural areas.

Our schools should be welcoming and safe. The previous government neglected to keep our schools up to standard or build much needed new schools. They made a lot of promises, but they did not keep up on seismic upgrades. We will increase the pace of investments in school capital, speed up repairs and replacements, and fast-track seismic upgrades to keep our kids safe. We are also committed to reducing the number of portables, to make sure our children are learning in proper classrooms.

Equal access and opportunity are at the heart of our approach to education. It is why we eliminated tuition fees on Adult Basic Education and English Language Learning programs starting Sept. 1. It’s why we’re committed to lifting individuals out of poverty through stronger social programs and a higher minimum wage. Families that are struggling in our communities also have children in our schools; those children also deserve the best possible start.

There is so much more we can do to support children when we work together. We can make extra efforts to engage the 64,000 Aboriginal learners in our schools and help them to build pride in their culture and communities. We can work together to make sure that children in care are supported to be successful.

We can make sure students have a strong start in our schools by investing more in early childhood education and childcare. And we can do more to help students transition from school to work or to further education.

I believe in the power of public education to build a better future for our kids and our province. Let’s work together to give our children the quality education they deserve.