Education is in the news in Alberta. From the portable classrooms that Edmonton Public Schools has purchased to deal with crowded classrooms to the debate about "no zero" policies. We remember the excellent Physics Teacher , Linden Dorval, who lost his job because he refused to ignore that work he had asked and asked and asked for again had not been completed. He gave zeros and ran head to head with the administration when he refused to re-assign other grades such as not handed in yet, or any of the codes that meant the same thing. Linden's job was terminated.
It could just be that Linden and the "no zeros" are at the top of a slippery slope. The powers that be, consultants and education experts, follow policies and theories from the United States whose students have, in the last years, done abysmally in international tests. In particular PISA, the Program for International Student Assessment, shows which countries teach students to think for themselves and not spew facts by rote. The test is not an easy one, questions require written responses and most of them don't have cut and dry answers but require creativity and the development of an argument to complete them. The test was developed by The Organization for Economic Cooperation and development with Andreas Schliecher at the centre. He is a scientist and a brilliant man. The results of the carefully developed PISA show that number one country in the world is Finland, followed by South Korea and Poland. Not what I expected.
Amanda Ripley, a journalist, who had worked for Time among other magazines, was assigned to do an educational article. She wasn't happy because she considered education stories- soft. In her book, "The Smartest Kids in the World", she reveals what some of the reasons for such a disparate trio of countries having such educational success. Technology?? Do they all have iPads, laptops and unlimited internet time? Are the allowed to work at their own, often snail pace? Are they encouraged to research their own interests? Are the praised for the most ridiculous efforts? Actually, no. Finland, South Korea and Poland don't have smart boards and tons of video clips and interactive educational games. They actually have excellent teachers, who are valued and well paid. Their diverse societies have bought into the idea that education counts, that what schools do and that what students do with their time at school is important. In some math classes, there are, gasp, no calculators. Students have to use the attached device that comes, usually covered with hair. It seems attitude is far more important than many other factors we think are advantages. Students are held to high standards and they are expected to meet those standards. There aren't many things that will serve as reasons to exclude you from doing your work. Exams are comprehensive and written (not bubbled from four choices.) Reading and writing are highly valued. Sports are not important in these educational systems. This is not to say that sports are not important in these societies, it's that they are considered the province of individuals and communities, not schools. No longer is the main characteristic of a new hire, good coach for _________ (fill in your sport); the hire is based on expertise in a given academic area.
Canada (and Alberta) still does well on international tests such as PISA but we are slipping. This is a plea for the maintenance of high standards. More written exams and fewer multiple choice. Better training for teachers and a higher value placed on the job that they do. Before it is too late, stick with what we know works and don't import ideas from the United States where standards have cratered and the public school system is in deep trouble.
Anyone in the educational system should read "The Smartest Kids in the World". It is an eye-opener. Amanda Ripley is an American journalist but she can see where the weaknesses are in America's public schools. The book is highly readable and based on research. When opinions are offered, they are based on research trends. If you care about Canada's public school systems and good educations for all, this book points the way.
Yes, I'm of a certain age but I'm pretty spry and like to think still smart enough.