Take back education

Letters to the Editor (The Guardian)
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Upwards of 45 per cent of students exiting public school system show literacy, numeracy deficits

Recent comments on CBC Radio in discussion with UPEI professor Dr. Tess Miller, as well as remarks in The Guardian by Michael Zwaagstraof, a former teacher working for the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, has generated fodder leading folks to consider our P.E.I. education system is in dire need of an overhaul or at least a serious review. Our current situation has been under question of late with continuing poor Provincial Assessments and the latest slash of cut teacher and educational assistant positions. Our enrolment numbers do not define our student needs and it’s time for us to take back education.

The discussions of late surround the social promotion policy implemented by our department of education where our students move on to the next grade level in spite of whether or not they actually met the outcomes of that grade. A hugely identified contributing factor to our current crisis in our decrease in successful educational outcomes.

These discussions highlight the facts that our students move forward with their peers despite deficits in literacy or numeracy grade level expectations which in our current model of education delivery demonstrates that these deficits only grow larger as these students move forward leaving them more susceptible to failure within our schools.

In an ideal setting, as discussed on CBC Radio, the education system would meet the child where they are in terms of learning.

 It was stated that each child learns at a different rate and may develop in one area before mastering another subject area. For example, a Grade 3-aged student may be at a Grade 1 level math but at a Grade 4 level of reading. In the ideal setting then that child would stay with his age group of peers but have support in his math to help bring him up to expected outcomes but may be challenged in his reading to excel.

Sounds like a pretty awesome concept and one I would support. This ideal teaching model would be manpower heavy and although top notch not likely very realistic, especially in this dollar-driven downturned economic time. In spite of our poor academic standings and faltering provincial assessments, our government has eliminated even more human resources from an already crippled system that has clearly shown it is need of additional support.

The swing factor in the discussions on social promotion, despite obvious lack of resources for it’s success, orbit around the student’s self esteem. Now we know our children are bright and are aware of their peers that require additional help. Nothing is hidden from their peers in that sense.

So the questions prompted by our current teaching model are: 1) Is it better to hold children back at an earlier age in an effort to support their literacy and numeracy outcomes; or 2) Should we wait, as we are now doing, until the junior/high school levels where their academic struggles may result in behavior backlash, inability to get employed, and perhaps even greater self esteem issues? Pick the lesser of those two.

There are many things to consider. What we do know without a doubt is that things are not working as they are at present. Students are exiting our public school system at an alarming trend of upwards to 45 per cent with literacy and numeracy deficits. This is confirmed by our post-secondary institutions having had to implement programs to support our youth moving forward in education to address their lack of readiness. We have heard from the Chamber of Commerce expressing concern as our youth are struggling in the workplace related to poor literacy and numeracy skill sets. We have heard from our teachers citing growing classroom composition needs and their inability with our lack of resources in form of additional teachers and educational assistants  to support our children’s educational success.

We do not enjoy that ideal learning setting where we are able to fully support our children where they are with their learning. We do see more and more parents seeking outside resource such as tutors or private teaching centers to aid their children. We are only able to do the most with what we know at the time we are living in. Reality is a tough teacher for our youth where expectations are met or you are on the losing side of academic, workplace, or personal achievements. Period. Maybe holding students back is not the ideal, but maybe it would see better outcomes in the long run.

A short term solution might include reinstating our lost teaching and assistant positions until the Department of Education can more adequately review our system’s needs.

It is time for us to take back education and have all parties involved shoulder some responsibility . . . government, parents and students alike. Perhaps that means eliminating the social promotion policy. What say you, Minister of Education and Chair of School Trustees? How about you parents?

By Patty van Diepen (guest opinion)

Patty van Diepen, Green Meadows, is a member of the Morell area home and school association

Organizations: CBC Radio, Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, Chamber of Commerce Department of Education

Geographic location: Green Meadows

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