The following is a guest opinion from President, Rory Francis challenging the status quo of PEI’s K-12 Education system, published Saturday, February 3 in The Guardian newspaper.

One of our most important responsibilities as an Island community is to ensure that our children can achieve their full potential. We all know that education from early childhood to Grade 12 is a critical component of their development.

Why, then, are we so accepting of the unacceptable results being attained by our K-12 students in standard provincial assessments of literacy, numeracy and science? Are our children less capable of learning than children in other parts of the country? We think not. Then why are our provincial assessment results among the lowest in the country – and showing little or no signs of improvement? We are failing to give our next generation some of the basic tools they need to succeed in a complicated world. Yet, the silence is deafening.

Provincial student assessments continue to underline the need for change. According to the most recent results, 52 per cent of Grade 3 students write at a level below the Department of Education’s expectations, and 38 per cent perform math at a level below department expectations. Simply put, roughly half of the Island’s Grade 3 students are not reaching the goals the department has set for them. Unfortunately, such results are not new. Since 2012, provincial assessments have not shown significant improvement. In many cases, in fact, student outcomes have regressed.

So why does the Greater Charlottetown Area Chamber of Commerce, representing business in our community, care about this critical issue? Many of our members are concerned parents, but they are also employers, entrepreneurs, inventors and community leaders. They know that the quality of our education system and the economic well being of our province are closely intertwined.

A well-educated population is fundamental to a civic society: it increases labour productivity, supports innovation and entrepreneurship, and positively impacts the quality of our communities. An education system that helps students achieve superior outcomes helps our students compete in an increasingly globalized economy. A strong education system makes our province more attractive to new Islanders who will raise their families here.

Yet we seem complacent. Perhaps we hesitate to be angry because we aren’t sure who is to blame. The Department of Education? Politicians? Technology? Schools? Teachers? Unions? Parents? Culture? We’ve studied the matter, haven’t we? Unfortunately, commissions on governance, studies on rezoning and new spending have lacked specific attention to the real issue of the underperformance of our K-12 system in terms of student achievement. That said, looking for villains in a complex system would get us nowhere. Perhaps it is time for us, as a community, to admit we have a problem, and challenge ourselves to work together to find solutions.

Over the next few months, we wish to stimulate a dialogue. On Thursday, Feb. 8, at 4:30 p.m., at the Rodd Charlottetown Hotel, the Greater Charlottetown Area Chamber of Commerce will host a panel discussion and public forum on K-12 education. We don’t pretend to have silver-bullet answers, but with consensus, commitment and leadership, together we can begin the process of positive change.