The Manitoba Teachers’ Society is calling for a mental-health curriculum in schools as the pandemic takes a toll on students’ well-being.
The proposal is one of 26 recommendations made by the union ahead of the province’s education funding announcement for the next school year.
The union wants the province to develop comprehensive lessons on mental well-being and make sure mental-health services are easily accessible for students in K-12 schools, including adding school counsellors and clinicians and working to cut down wait times for student assessments.
"Let’s start talking about how to look after our mental health, so it’s not just about ensuring the health-care system is providing the supports to students, but it’s also to ensure that teachers have the tools to teach students about how to be healthy in all aspects of their life," said society president James Bedford.
Many of the union’s recommendations echo ones released last year in the government-commissioned final report of the K-12 Education Review. The review commission didn’t specifically call for a provincewide mental-health curriculum, but it did recommend focusing on "mental well-being initiatives" for students, and setting up a mental health strategy for educators so they can properly learn to recognize when students have mental-health issues.
Many of this year’s funding recommendations, which haven’t been costed out, are the result of repeated attempts to reduce child poverty and address students’ basic needs in all areas of the province, making school resources more accessible even in remote communities.
The union wants a universal school meal program, free bus passes for students, and free menstrual products available in school washrooms.
"Another thing that the pandemic has highlighted is just the shortcomings in the system, and particularly the fact that there’s a huge difference between the city of Winnipeg and the rest of the province when it comes to things like mental-health supports for students," Bedford said.
"Our students are struggling. They struggle with remote learning, but they struggle with being in person (and) learning when we’ve got a COVID variant that’s tearing through our province at the moment."
Wayne Ewasko, who was named education minister last week, hasn’t signalled the government will implement the recommendations.
In a statement, he said the government accepted the teachers’ submission as well as feedback from other stakeholders.
"Our government continues to engage with all education partners to implement an equitable and sustainable funding model based on recommendations from K-12 Commission," he stated.
A new public school funding formula would be a good thing, Bedford said, "so long as it is equitable across the province."
He said education funding hasn’t kept pace with inflation or student population growth for years.
» Winnipeg Free Press