The OECD ranked PEI last in Canada in educational attainment. The premier announced that he will form a task force to find out what is going on.
This is a plea to look beneath the surface.
Broadly in Canada, about 30-40% of kids fail to make it through school at all and a smaller fraction go on to post secondary. In any system with this much 'wastage' there has to be a systemic problem not solvable by tweaking or accusing teachers of not trying hard enough. Nor can we blame the kids as we tend to.
I think that the systemic issue is one of engagement.
Sitting quietly and receiving the "word" from the teacher as a passive process does not work any more in a world where kids are exposed to so many distractions. TV and fast food have a huge part to play in disconnecting kids from passive process. The roots of these influences are in the home. What we can control is what happens at school.
What happens at school is that we have system works for an ever smaller group of the whole. Over time, kids progressively get labeled as poor learners. This weeding process accelerates as the children pass up the system so that by grade 10 only a small group fit. We have a system that purports to serve all kids but in reality discards most by grade 10.
This image, devised by Daniel Pink of Free Agency fame has a clue for me as to where to look. It is called a Well Curve and is the value opposite of the Bell Curve.
The idea of the Well Curve is that the worst place to be in any system is in the middle. In a business context there is a market for cheap and cheerful and for luxury, but the middle ground is a nightmare. Follow the link for Daniel's excellent explanation. Snip:
The implications are huge: insurers, marketers, and policy-makers may be basing decisions on faulty premises about what is normal. They're assuming a vibrant center - Middle America, middlebrow tastes - when the action has migrated to the edges. The 180 from bell curve to well curve has turned their logic on its head.
Our school system is firmly rooted in the middle ground. What does this mean? It means that in the middle are only a few kids. Most of the kids are on the wings.
So if you are part of the large group of inquisitive kids on the left side of the curve - like my son James who left school aged 14 as a result - you feel oppressed by the boring droning and the forced silence of the pedagogy. You are penalized as trouble maker for asking questions or worse by questioning the authority of the teacher. Result - You act out or shut down.
If you are part of the other large group that is not at ease with symbolic thinking you inhabit the right hand side of the surve. Being a concrete and experienced based learner, you are turned off by the abstract and meaningless reliance on ideas that make no sense in the context of an active world. You too act out or shut down.
The result is that most of the kids and nearly all of the boys act out or shut down. What about the girls?
Generalization follows. Why are girls doing better than boys? Do you doubt that they are? Over 70% of freshman at UPEI this year are women! I think that an answer is to found in the differing world view of young men and young women. Girls are doing better than boys because they fit the system as we offer it better. Why? I think that it is because women have a powerful urge to fit in socially when they are young. Boys on the other hand have to find themselves as individuals more. They have to break away. Consequently they have a deep need to be physically active, to question and to feel relevance. This need does not fit the highly socially compliant culture of our school system. With no physical outlet to use up a lot of their energy boys cannot focus in such a passive system.
Boys need for engagement is evidenced by the powerful appeal of gaming. Gaming has overtaken action movies for boys. Why - because they have an innate desire to be involved actively and to be challenged. For boys, interactivity wins out over passivity. Challenge wins over ease. Anyone whose son skateboards or games knows the huge investment that their boy will put on his own volition into learning about something that he is engaged with.
Our fault is not our children it is how we "see" the process of learning at school.
Please I beg of you stop thinking about the tests and think about engagement.
"We can't do that" you say, "there are too many risks" The facts are clear - what we do now does not work. Doing what we do now harder will fail for sure.
On the other hand there is lots of evidence that when kids follow what they want to learn that they do well. I have one anecdotal story of my own. I am sure that you have similar stories your self. James gave up the formal school system and focused only on art. Is he now illiterate. No he is exceptionally literate. Does he have no math skills - no his are of a post grad level. Is he socially inept - no he is very attuned to how he affects the world. he got to this place by finding his bliss - for him it was art, and then adding in the other parts so that he could excels in his chosen field. Is he poor and dependent on his parents and the system? No he has been economically viable since he was 18.
Can we try an experiment? Can we set up one school on PEI where the kids can choose what they want to do and then we pile in and help them get there. It would be likely that such as school, would have a string bias towards the arts of all types. This does not have to be big at first. See it as a living experiment. Do we have a precedent? yes we do. PEI has a great music program. Question for Superintendent - how well do the music kids do compared to any other group? I bet you dinner Sandy at the place of your choice that they do better than most. I bet that we have more than anecdotal evidence that kids who are engaged somewhere will do well generally. We can build on a solid foundation of proven achievment in our own system
Simply working the system that does not work harder or tweaking it is a guarantee that we will not reverse the tide of misery and failure that our current system produces for so many.