A Vision for Education

In 2010, Alberta’s Ministry of Education unveiled a report entitled, “Inspiring Education.” It was the result of a three year long conversation with thousands of Albertans on what the future of education in Alberta should look like. The 51 page report presents a vision for education and deals mainly about how we need to shift from content to competencies within our classrooms. Although everyone with the education sphere may have heard of Inspiring Education, I have not heard much from voters about this vision of our education system.

I think it deserves better than that. Education is changing and too many people fear those changes because it is so different than what they experienced in their own youth. This is why this report is so important. It presents a vision that thousands of Albertans have created together. If we can agree with this vision, then the shortcomings of our current system will become more apparent and we will be much more likely to support change. Without support from all stakeholders, this vision will never become a reality, and that would be a pity.

So, what exactly is this vision? I will attempt to condense the report down to what I believe are the essentials. At the forefront are specific qualities and abilities that we want our children to possess by the time they graduate from high school. They have been summarized as “the Three E’s” of education. They are (and I quote directly from the report):

  • Engaged Thinker: one who thinks critically and makes discoveries; who uses technology to learn, innovate, communicate, and discover; who works with multiple perspectives and disciplines to identify problems and find the best solutions; who communicates these ideas to others; and who, as a life-long learner, adapts to change with an attitude of optimism and hope for the future.
  • Ethical Citizen: one who builds relationships based on humility, fairness and open-mindedness; who demonstrates respect, empathy and compassion; and who through teamwork, collaboration and communication contributes fully to the community and the world.
  • Entrepreneurial Spirit: one who creates opportunities and achieves goals through hard work, perseverance and discipline; who strives for excellence and earns success; who explores ideas and challenges the status quo; who is competitive, adaptable and resilient; and who has the confidence to take risks and make bold decisions in the face of adversity.

I want to make it clear that focusing on the “Three E’s” by no means implies that the “Three R’s” (reading, writing, and arithmetic) will be tossed out the window. In order to develop critical thinking skills, communicate effectively, or explore ideas, students must have certain basic skills that will not diminish in importance. What will change is how those skills are developed and used in the classroom. Those skills will become a means to an end, not an end in and of themselves.

In order to create an educational system designed to foster these “Three E’s,” the report identified six values that should always be considered when making any decisions about education. These are (and again I quote):

  • Opportunity – Learners are exposed to rich learning experiences that enable them to discover their passions and achieve their highest potential.
  • Fairness – Learners have access to the programs, support services, and instructional excellence needed to achieve desired outcomes.
  • Citizenship – Learners have pride in their community and culture. They have a sense of belonging and work to improve both the community and the world.
  • Choice – Learners have a choice of both programs and methods of learning.
  • Diversity – Learners’ differing needs, cultures, and abilities are respected and valued within inclusive learning environments.
  • Excellence – Learners, teachers, and governors achieve high standards.

Sounds good so far, doesn’t it? How could anyone have a problem with any of that? High standards, rich learning environments, more choice. Great! However, many people don’t understand what changes will need to take place in order to actually make it a reality. Some areas where change could occur are presented throughout the Inspiring Education report and include:

  • Role of the teacher: teachers will oversee learning activities rather than transmitting facts.
  • Curriculum: should be less restrictive in order to allow students to pursue their passions.
  • Technology: needs to support innovation and discovery and should not just be a teaching aid.
  • Governance: should have a greater representation of stakeholders responsible for decision-making.
  • Personalization: students learn in different ways and at different speeds and should not necessarily be grouped by age and grade.
  • Credentialing: required hours of study may lose relevance as we focus more on whether or not the competencies have been mastered.

Starting to feel a twinge of doubt now? Change is hard. It is especially hard in the field of education because it’s our children’s futures that are at stake. But, change is needed. The world is changing faster than ever before. We can no longer stand still while doing the same things as always, and expect our children to be prepared for what lies ahead.

If our educational system can succeed in creating engaged thinkers and ethical citizens who have a true entrepreneurial spirit, we will have truly made the world a better place for everyone. I encourage you to read the report and share this vision with others, so that when these new ideas are presented, you will know what we are trying to achieve. A better education for our children, and a better future for all.

4 thoughts on “A Vision for Education

  1. Mary

    You have not heard from voters because knowone was aware of this Review. Alberta Government’s plan was only visited by a few thousand people as far as I know. The stakeholders involved in putting this together for the most part do not represent me (as a parent) or my children in the system. CBE and others are constantly trying implement new curriculum. Unfortunately many kids suffer. For example, the new math which goes away from the 4 basic algorithms makes kids in Grade 10 slower at moving forward. (as per High School Math Teacher) Also many kids don’t know their basic multiplication tables because Stelmach’s above group want to move away from rote memory. Trust me, it helps them in high school as they move quickly through the subject matter.
    Many educators want to make our system like others. For example…We cannot be Finland who scores high on international testing. Our demographics are not similar at all. Finnish students do learn on their own and at their own pace. Why? They have teachers who teach small class sizes of classes with instruction 4 hours a day. The rest of their time is spent in their office planning individualized instruction plans for the students or meeting with parents. Students get equivalent of $115k Cdn for
    help with learning Finish if it is not their first language or for computer/tutors, etc.. They are tested in the beginning of the year and at the end with no percentages or report cards. Post Secondary is FREE in Finland due to their high tax rates. Also, it took them 40 years to get this system in place.

    Alberta is cramming kids into 40plus per class in High Schools. Teachers have absolutely zero time for individualized based learning. Teachers like to keep everything the same as well. So many
    have left for private schools who prepare them better thru smaller class sizes and focus on post secondary prepwork. There is such a strong push for kids to move into trade schools. They should have every option open to them as many are not interested in the trades.

    I don’t agree with some of the research behind this new movement. As you are aware, our Educators are the highest paid in the country. With 80% of our tax dollars spent on salaries and administration and only 20% spent on technology, etc. How would they ever get this right? Loaded with Edubabble.

    Take the time and focus on what your end result will be. Regards, Mary

  2. Trina Hurdman Post author

    Thank you for taking the time to comment Mary. I would say that many share your concerns that basic literacy and numeracy are not emphasized enough in schools. I know many people who have put their children in remedial tutoring because they do not feel that these skills have been adequately developed. You are correct that times tables do need to be eventually memorized.

    I also agree that we are not Finland and that far too many new initiatives have been pushed down to classrooms without first getting parents, students and teachers involved in deciding whether it would benefit students locally. That is partly why I am running for trustee: To ensure that these conversations are happening and that our system is continually improving. This is a long term vision and definitely not something that I am looking to achieve within four years. However, I do think we need to start critically thinking about what kind of education our students require to succeed in the future, and this document is a great start.

  3. Mona Lutfy

    New initiatives are generally brought forth with the noblest of intentions. However, when stakeholders are not consulted, when balanced research is not shared with them, when changes are imposed in a top-down manner, the buy-in is much more difficult. New initiatives should not be about political expediency, but should sincerely and wholeheartedly be about what is best for the students in the classroom. That means involving those who are closest to the students – parents and teachers, and showing the utmost respect for their viewpoint. There needs to be time to implement new initiative in a reflective and respectful manner.
    Parents must be given the information in an open and transparent way, and they must have the opportunity to ask questions in order to develop a better understanding of the goals, the processes and the expected outcomes. Parents whose first language is not English and who find it difficult to communicate in English should also be considered.
    Teachers need time and support, time to prepare, to personalize, to initiate, and to assess. Classes of 30 to 40 plus kids do not provide the environment for innovation. Teachers must be allowed the flexibility to exercise their professional judgment as to how to best meet the needs of their students. Teachers know that there is more than one way to learn and good teachers are attuned to the way their students learn. Too many new initiatives have been pushed down on teachers and schools with no consideration for the well being of the students and their classroom teacher. There is often little to no time to prepare for the transitions, leaving teachers overwhelmed and physically and emotionally drained. Students sometimes find themselves trying to learn in an environment that is not suited to their style. Good teachers understand balance.
    Students too need to feel engaged in the process, especially in the higher grades. They are concerned about their learning and the impact of certain initiatives. They have a right to be properly informed and to have their questions answered. We are raising critical thinkers who are invited to question. The most recent discussions around new report cards has been a concern to students in grades 8 and 9 as they prepare for High School and for future studies. They want to be well prepared and that includes familiarity and comfort with percentage grades.
    Sound pedagogy is about balance. What was done in the past was not all bad. Let us not throw out everything about more traditional pedagogy in the name of progress. At the same time, let us not be stuck in the past. Let us embrace new ideas and innovative teaching practices while maintaining some of the tried and true strategies (like memorizing multiplication tables!)
    Innovative 21st century practices should and must be brought forth with buy-in from all stakeholders. That takes time and trust.

  4. Trina Hurdman Post author

    Thank you very much for your comment. This is exactly what I have been saying for the past three years, but I think you have stated it more eloquently than I ever have. Thank you!

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