Editorial: Ending social promotion

The political parties are all starting to showcase some specific policy ideas in advance of the next provincial election, and the NDP has once more put forward an idea that is worthy of serious consideration. Fresh after announcing that it would form a smaller and streamlined cabinet if they formed government, the NDP shared with the Telegraph-Journal some of its more compelling education policies – including a pledge to end the practice of “social promotion” if it were in charge of the province’s schools.

Elections are won on a lot more than just ideas, but so far in 2014 the NDP have managed to punch well above its weight by showing voters enough policy ideas to suggest that the NDP could offer a real alternative at the ballot box this September. The proposal to end “social promotion” is a good example of this, as it has the potential to re-establish real accountability to New Brunswick’s system of public education.

For far too long, students were allowed to proceed to the next grade even if they weren’t meeting basic standards of literacy or numeracy – it was simply believed that if their classmates were allowed to advance, it would be better for the student falling behind if he or she was allowed to progress through school with the rest of the class.

While this policy may have obvious mental health benefits in the short term – no student wants to be held back, particularly at a young age – it is a policy that has had long term negative consequences for the province’s education system, and for New Brunswick as a whole. In a world where more and more jobs require computer coding, sound communications skills, or a strong analytical mind, how can continuing to graduate students with an inadequate foundation in literacy or numeracy be of benefit to anybody? Failure is something that happens with regularity in all parts of life, and to shelter students from even the prospect of failure is only undermining their ability to get a quality education, and eventual success in life.

And given that the provincial department of education now spends more than a billion dollars annually, removing the school system of social promotion provides an element of much-needed accountability to the system. We all want New Brunswick students to find success in the world around them, but we can’t assure that success unless we push them toward higher standards or literacy and numeracy. Ending social promotion helps achieve this goal.