Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Enough coddling

Inspired by a Globe and Mail article on shorter summer holidays for students and instead spreading the holidays more evenly throughout the year (here's the link), here's what I think are necessary changes to fix education system in Ontario:

- Let students graduate with a certificate at 16 to start work earlier, or continue to 18 and graduate with a diploma which allows them to go on to University or College, and let their last year count as University/College credits (in the same fashion as CGEP in Quebec). This is the system in Great Britain and it seems to produce some good results. It lessens the burden on the system (less students in higher grades), prepares the students better for post-secondary education or for workplace, and lets those students who are interested in starting to work early to do so without penalizing them for dropping out of high school.

- Shorten summer holidays (again, the way it's done in Britain), or get rid of them and spread the holidays throughout the year. We need to compensate for loss of OAC, help knowledge retention, and allow students and parents to enjoy more time together throughout the year rather than stress the parents with having to find babysitters, summer camp, or summer school during the summer. Systems with shorter holidays, or year-long programs (whether public systems abroad, or some of the private schools right here in Canada) show much better academic results and graduation rate.

- We need to bring back meaningful assessments and evaluations, and to implement stricter guidelines on academic performance. Under the current system it's next to impossible to give a failing grade, and meaningful deadlines for assignments (and indeed course completions!) are non-existent. Students are also being pushed through the system without regard as to their actual progress, resulting in situations where a Grade 12 student who has been in a Canadian system all his life reads and writes at a Grade 2 level (personally witnessed).

- I think we need to at once make the curriculum more flexible in some areas and more rigid in other areas. First of all, the vocational courses need to be accessible to students earlier (so that they can graduate with a certificate at 16 and start working). Secondly electives need to be available in earlier grades. Thirdly certain core subjects (English and Math primarily) need to be not only mandatory throughout all grades, but also be year-long. Otherwise the results are just embarrassing. Finally we need to give technology and computer courses earlier. We often take it for granted that the young generation are tech-savvy, but in reality they are woefully ignorant. They know how to text, use Facebook, post YouTube videos and chat, and that's it. When it comes to actual practical knowledge of computers and software even 40-50 years olds can run circles around 16-year olds. I've seen it myself. The amazement of "You can do that in word processor?!" is funny only the first couple of times. Afterward it's sad.

Given the trajectory that our education system seems to be on right now, I think within 10 years we're going to hit a crisis in the work force, practical and pure research, and education in general. It's going to take some drastic changes to avoid it.