Canada; What’s The Problem?

Today I am on vacation in Montreal, Canada. So I found John Abbot’s blog about what is not going on here in Canada, and here it is for you to read. Enjoy!

Canada has a lot to be proud of when it comes to education. We rank well internationally, our schools are filled with intelligent, passionate educators, access is free and the majority of our youth graduate from high school to join a diverse and primarily peaceful, well-functioning society. Many of us, however, have a niggling suspicion that something isn’t quite right. When you can’t think of a single teenager who enjoys school and is excited to learn – something is wrong. When teachers can’t possibly use teaching strategies that support deeper learning because the curriculum is too crowded – something is wrong. And when we have increasing rates of youth violence, apathy, depression and suicide – something is very definitely wrong.

Problems in education are not because of incompetent teachers, lazy or apathetic youth or misguided administration. The crisis is increasingly the result of a system that was developed to meet the needs of society over 150 years ago, using the information (or misinformation) available at the time it was created. Our world and our understanding of human learning has changed exponentially, while our schools have only changed incrementally.

The explosion of information and communication technologies have altered the very concept of knowledge and the way we process and use information. Changes to the structure, involvement and influence of family and community have affected how children are raised and what we expect out of our schools. The economy, global interconnectivity and the complexity of our world demand the development of radically different skills. And developments in everything from neuroscience to evolutionary psychology allow us to understand more about how the human brain learns than ever before. So why is it that so much of how we educate our children stays the same? Children are still required to sit, listen and acquire facts for later testing. Subjects and grades remain clearly separated and learning continues to be primarily theoretical not experiential.

There have, of course, been numerous attempts to make things right. But the majority of educational reform has been based on short-sighted and politically motivated efforts to implement “higher standards” and increase “accountability”. Many of these initiatives go directly against what we now know about how kids learn. In fact, over the past 60 years there have been so many movements in educational reform (often contradictory) that even well researched and potentially effective attempts at change can feel like one more ‘flavour of the month’. Educators have become wary of the pendulum swings in both directions and increasingly resistant to short term changes that are not adequately supported or implemented with long term vision.

Inside Out and Upside Down: John Abbott on Schools

Persistent (and costly) efforts at educational reform, implementation of innovative initiatives and even the efforts of effective and inspiring teachers can’t fix a system built on a faulty foundation. We need to stop patching and start rebuilding. The system itself needs to be redesigned for the 21st century based on what we now know about how kids learn and develop. It needs to be re-envisioned, redefined and re-aligned. Let’s stop applying bandaids and get to work resetting the broken bones.

Signs of Trouble

Although Canada has one of the best rated education systems in the world, something is clearly wrong when we see growing youth disengagement1, increasing dislike for school with each passing grade2 and rising rates of teenage depression3 and suicide4. Expansion of both home schooling and private school enrollment5 also indicate dropping confidence in public education and recent studies show that many of our students are leaving the system without the basic skills or problem solving abilities needed to function in today’s economy6. Minority and low income students are the hardest hit7. [[|Read more.]]

How Did We Get Here?

The structure and foundations of public education in Canada was built and then shaped by diverse forces. Our British heritage, the efficiency movement in production during the Industrial Revolution, behaviourism (think punishment and reward) and the phenomenon of the American teenager – to name a few. [[|Read more.]]

Why Hasn’t Anything Changed?

Because changing large systems is difficult. Because when you grow up and succeed within the traditional system, it’s hard to see what’s wrong and it’s even harder to imagine that we can do it any other way. Perhaps we have also failed to fully recognize that what happens to our children affects us all. [[


1 The McCreary Centre Society, Healthy Connections: Listening to BC Youth. Highlights From the Adolescent Health Survey II (Vancouver: The McCreary Centre Society, 1999).

2 William Boyce, Young People in Canada: Their Health and Well-being (Ottawa: Health Canada, 2002).

3 The Kelty Patrick Dennehy Foundation [| Teenage Depression and Suicide—The Facts]

4 The Kelty Patrick Dennehy Foundation [| Teenage Depression and Suicide—The Facts]

5 Claudia R. Hepburn, [ | The Case for School Choice: Models From the United States, New Zealand, Denmark, and Sweden], Critical Issues Bulletin (Vancouver: The Fraser Institute, Sept. 1999).

6 Canadian Education Statistics Council, [ | Education Indicators in Canada: Report of the Pan-Canadian Education Indicators Program 2005] (Ottawa: Canadian Education Statistics Council, 2006; Statistics Canada Catalogue 81-582-XIE).

7 Canadian Education Statistics Council, [ | Education Indicators in Canada: Report of the Pan-Canadian Education Indicators Program 2005] (Ottawa: Canadian Education Statistics Council, 2006; Statistics Canada Catalogue 81-582-XIE).

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

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