© The Guardian
UPEI’s interim dean of education, Ron MacDonald, here outside his department’s office, says the school is compressing its education program to meet the demands of Islanders who want to become teachers.
UPEI is making a major change to the way it trains teachers by compressing its bachelor of education program into one year instead of two.
Ron MacDonald, the department’s interim dean, said the change was made to meet the demands of education students who are looking for compressed programs.
“They see those across the (Confederation) bridge,” he said.
Under the current program, students spend two years at UPEI from September to May with about 85 graduates every spring.
The number of graduates every year won’t change, but instead of having a break in the summer the students will attend classes and complete teaching practicums throughout a full calendar year, starting in May 2014.
UPEI will graduate two classes in 2015 because of the transition, but will go back to graduating about 85 students in the next year.
MacDonald said the department’s research found 93 per cent of its graduates within the last three years had either full-time, contract or substitute teaching work.
Competition for education students in the Maritimes is steep with eight universities in the region that offer bachelor of education programs, including two in New Brunswick that have shorter programs.
Every year there are about 300 teachers newly certified in P.E.I., but only about 85 of those come from UPEI’s education program.
Of those UPEI graduates, 15 are part of the school’s French program, which is in high demand in P.E.I.
MacDonald said that means most of them get their degrees elsewhere.
“We want to keep them here,” he said.
While the university wants Island students to stay in P.E.I. for their education training, the new program will have an increased focus on math and science, specifically for elementary school teachers.
To get into the program the students will need more math credits from their undergraduate degree.
Once they are in the program, the students will have to take a math for teachers course and a science, technology, engineering and math course known as STEM will be available.
MacDonald said the science course will set them up to be better math teachers.
“A different kind of a perspective on data and how to work with it,” he said.
Recent results from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) testing showed P.E.I.’s 15-year-olds ranked last in the country in math, reading and science.
The work to change the education program started before the PISA results came out, but MacDonald said there has always been a general sense that literacy was very important so there was a focus on it.
“With an enhanced focus on literacy, math and science may have been . . . less of a focus.”
UPEI’s education students are required to complete teaching practicums that place them in classrooms alongside experienced teachers to help them gain experience.
That won’t change under the new program, but the placements will be longer with students spending 20 weeks in schools.
The bachelor of education program also has specializations in international or indigenous education, but with the change there will be an additional specialization in adult education available.
MacDonald said the program’s graduates work in education-related fields and some of them want the bachelor of education skills, but don’t want to teach younger students so there will be options for practicums in places like Holland College.
“That option’s there for them now.”
Some English as an additional language training will also become mandatory under the new program because of the Island’s diverse population, MacDonald said.
“It’s an essential skill for teachers in today’s culture to be able to work with students whose language isn’t English first language.”
With education programs in the region struggling to recruit students, MacDonald said making the change so close to the application period is a risk.
“It’s a risk that our faculty is willing to take,” he said.