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Wanda Nanibush (far left), Faisal Moola, Carolyn Bennett, Craig Alexander and Annie Kidder discuss public education in Canada at the People of Education annual conference in Toronto on Saturday, Nov. 7, 2015.

Rachel Collier/The Globe and Mail

Aboriginal affairs, the economy, the environment and healthcare were at the forefront of this year's People for Education annual conference.

Annie Kidder, executive director and founder of the advocacy organization, said it's important to remember the broader purpose of education in Canada.

"I feel as if in education we have a tendency to get very stuck on the inside and we miss the forest for the trees," Ms. Kidder said. "For us, what's important is to think about what we need to be doing in our schools. What kind of graduates do we need in order for them to happy, healthy, economically secure and civically engaged?"

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A panel discussion featuring newly-appointed Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Carolyn Bennett, indigenous activist Wanda Nanibush, ecologist Faisal Moola and economics expert Craig Alexander focused on the direction public education needs to go in order to create a better Canada.

Dr. Bennett warmed up the audience of teachers, parents, academics and board members with humour.

"Some think that my success in this election is the 2000 babies I delivered who all turn 18 this year," she said. Dr. Bennett also delivered Ms. Kidder's first-born child.

She discussed the relation between healthcare and education, adding education is a metric.

"It's a measurable outcome that leads to almost everything else. With good education outcomes, you get good health outcomes, you get good economic outcomes," Dr. Bennett said.

Mr. Alexander, vice-president of economic analysis at the C.D. Howe Institute, said economic shifts have to be reflected in education.

"Where we are headed from an economic point of view is we are going to need an ever-more skilled worked force that is capable of changing with the times," he said.

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Director of Ontario and Northern Canada's branch of the David Suzuki Foundation Faisal Moola spoke about the importance of helping children fall in love with nature.

"Our true wealth is actually not found in our pocket books, and our corporate bank sheets and our government coffers. The true wealth of this country is found in the land and the waters and the community that it sustains," he said.

Mr. Moola emphasized the importance of Indigenous peoples in sustaining the earth.

Activist Wanda Nanibush said children are at the centre of the Indigenous community. She said it was important to ensure history and social science curricula tell the real story of how Canada came to be.

"This country's history has robbed us of our children," she said, citing residential schools and social welfare issues.

The day-long conference, in its 19th year, concluded with an address from the Minister of Education Liz Sandals.

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She opened her statement by updating the audience on the ongoing labour disputes with Ontario unions representing teachers and support staff. Currently, the province has come to agreements with five of the nine unions it is negotiating with.

"I am looking forward with great delight that I am going to be able to go back to being the Minister of Education rather than the Minister of Collective Bargaining. We can actually talk about education," she said.

Ms. Sandals proceeded to discuss improvements Ontario has made when it comes to graduation rates, including aboriginal perspectives and sexual education.

Margaret Proctor attended the conference in the hopes she could learn how to make education better for her 14-year-old son. She said she was impressed by the event.

"What schools should be doing [at] this point is helping him to learn how to be an engaged member of our society," she said. "He has to understand how to really think about what's important to him and the people in his generation who have to live on this planet in our society."

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