What does it mean to “educate”? part 2

Schools have changed.

Technology has created a global learning community that students have never before been able to access. Technology is used to glean information that used to be required memorization. Technology is used to share information through Web 1.0 mediums. Technology is used to interact with others online in the social media Web 2.0 environment. Technology is used to improve equity in access to and quality of education for all.

Brain research has created an increased understanding of the need for diversity in ways of teaching because of the diversity in ways people learn. Brain research has provided an increased understanding of how time-of-day affects the amount of learning taking place at different age levels. Brain research has provided an increased understanding of how students can share what they’ve learned, going beyond paper-and-pencil methods.

Schools – classrooms – are no longer contained by four walls and the desks and chairs within them. Teachers and students connect with others through technology. Teachers and students go out into the community to learn new skills from industry and business mentors. Teachers and students use the outdoors as a natural learning space for both the traditional subjects of “reading, writing, and arithmetic” as well as the more recent additions of social curricula such as environmental topics, social justice, and equity issues.

Yes, schools have changed. They have moved beyond the factory-driven model and desire for workers to be able to read instructions and follow through on them.

Current legislation in Manitoba requires students to be in school until they reach the age of 18. Current legislation in Manitoba requires students to graduate with at least 30 credits, obtained through grades 9-12. This has caused a shift in focus for the education system: we are more focused now on graduation rates (increasing them) and dropout rates (decreasing them). When the factory-based model of education began, the focus was on conveying a specific/scripted set of skills uniformly to a set of workers. Somewhere in between then and now, educators began to formulate beliefs that education is about providing everyone with an equal opportunity to learn and to become a productive member of society. What has current legislation caused in terms of a shift in purpose?

The Manitoba Public Schools Act begins with a few general statements, including:

  • WHEREAS a strong public school system is a fundamental element of a democratic society;
  • AND WHEREAS the purpose of the public school system is to serve the best educational interests of students;
  • AND WHEREAS the public school system should contribute to the development of students’ talents and abilities;
  • AND WHEREAS public schools should contribute to the development of a fair, compassionate, healthy and prosperous society;
  • AND WHEREAS the public school system must take into account the diverse needs and interests of the people of Manitoba (Source: Public Schools Act of Manitoba)

So, according to our current legislation, education is to “serve the best educational interests of students”, among other things. How does this purpose fit with the legislation requiring students to stay in school? Whose interests are truly being served with this requirement? What if the best educational interests of a student are to have the opportunity to work at age 16 (something previous legislation allowed)? 

I wonder what the true focus has become for the Minister of Education. I wonder if the true purpose of education (as outlined in the Public Schools Act) has been lost in a desire to keep teenagers off the streets, to prove through statistics that “kids stay in school” and “kids graduate”. What we really should be asking ourselves is “what skills do our students leave the school system with” rather than “how many stayed in school” or “how many graduated”.

Schools have changed.

Education has changed.

What is the true purpose of education in Manitoba?


About tjthiessen

explorer, administrator, consultant, student, leader
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