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Caylan Ford: Universities have a monopoly on teacher training. They don’t deserve to keep it

Commentary

Teacher Nassima Sayah gives instructions during a class, January 25, 2023 in Montreal. Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press.

For two full days this school year, teachers with the Alberta Classical Academy charter schools attended an intensive professional development session on early literacy, with a concentration on phonics instruction. The sessions were led by a Harvard-trained cognitive scientist and doctoral candidate whose research focuses on the science of reading.

The charter school board (which, in full disclosure, I founded and previously chaired) offered the same training last year as we prepared to open our first elementary school. And for the second year in a row, the reviews from new faculty were glowing—and alarming.

No fewer than five different teachers reported, in nearly identical terms, that they learned more in those two days than they did in their entire education degree. Others expressed something between baffled incredulity and outrage that their bachelor of education programs had left them so unprepared to teach children how to read.

The gravity of the problem is hard to overstate: a troubling number of Canadian school children cannot read at grade level. Without serious and immediate interventions, most of those children will face a lifetime of struggle with basic life skills. Their career and social prospects will be severely constrained, as will their ability to participate in the enjoyment of high culture, literature, and philosophy.

How can we account for the failure of so many university faculties of education to teach these essential skills? Part of the answer is that these programs hold a near-monopoly on teacher training and certification, but little direct connection to classroom instruction, and no accountability for the results they produce.

This needs to change.

Richard Shimooka: Why Canada’s Cuban port visit was such a disaster

Commentary

Vice-Admiral Angus Topshee and Cmdr. Nicole Robichaud at HMCS Margaret Brooke’s commissioning ceremony in Halifax, Oct. 28, 2022. Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press.

It has been a dramatic week for the Royal Canadian Navy and the government of Canada. The situation could be straight out of any coming-of-age teen drama as Canada, confident as can be, is cruising around a house party only to stop dead when they see their rival, posted up by the punch bowl, smirking and flirting with the host: “What are they doing here?”

The setting, in this case, is Havana, Cuba, where the RCN’s HMCS Margaret BrookeThe HMCS Margaret Brooke is one of the new class of Arctic Offshore Patrol Vessels (AOPS) currently being deployed by the RCN, but it is not a major surface combatant like the Halifax-class frigates or forthcoming Canadian Surface Combatant. As its name alludes to, the class of vessel is lightly armed and intended to undertake less demanding patrols in places like the Arctic or the Caribbean to provide security and humanitarian support. was participating in a port of call. The arriving rival? Five Russian naval vessels visiting their Caribbean ally. While this may all seem like an overblown coincidence, the entire series of events illustrates some of the strengths of the Canadian military’s capabilities and, more importantly, some of its long-standing weaknesses in policy formation and implementation.

What is a port of call?

For the uninitiated, port visits have come to occupy a critical place in Canada’s diplomatic and security policy over the past decade. While they have a very long tradition, since 2015 the government has made a significant effort to use them to cultivate diplomatic relations with states, particularly in the Indo-Pacific. During a visit, the local ambassador and Global Affairs Canada (GAC) in Ottawa will organize events around the ship.Much of the research for this article is based on a forthcoming chapter on the RCN’s role in Canada’s Asia-Pacific policy development 2015~2022, in Kenneth M. Holland, ed., Canada and Competing Indo-Pacific Visions of China and the US: Caught in a Foreign Policy Dilemma. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 202 This includes hosting delegations and meetings on the vessel, arranging shore visits, and engaging in humanitarian activities.

Planning a port visit usually occurs months before a vessel departs for a deployment as they require an extensive inter-departmental process. A request to undertake a port visit to Havana, given its sensitivities, would almost certainly come from GAC and/or the prime minister’s office. In these cases, they should be viewed more as a very high-level diplomatic event, with the PMO and the minister of foreign affairs directly involved. From here, the military starts studying the requests’ feasibility as naval vessels tend to have packed itineraries over a deployment—there are exercises with allies, temporary secondment to ongoing multilateral operations, and other port visits that all pull on a schedule.

In this case, it is highly unlikely that the idea would have originated from within the Department of National Defence. Cuba is not an ally, and there are very limited military benefits that would be accrued from a port visit.The RCN presence in the Caribbean has not been large but had some notable successes. A major mission in the region has been Operation CARIBBE, a long-running joint counter-narcotics operation with the United States. In addition, the Navy rushed the HMCS Glace Bay and Moncton from the West coast of Africa to Haiti as the security situation in that country deteriorated. While it had extremely limited consequences on the crisis, Canada’s modest contribution was well received by other regional allies. They are particularly troublesome for crews, requiring a number of additional measures to secure the vessels and personnel in port, as well as extensive diplomatic negotiations. These considerations are part of the reason why visits to Cuba occur relatively infrequently.The RCN has not undertaken a port visit to Cuba since 2016, when the Halifax Class HMCS Fredericton visited the country as part of the Trudeau government’s efforts to thaw relations with the Communist state.