On May 18, 2017, the LYAC held a discussion on education, led by Council Director Kayley MacGregor. The meeting was joined by members of the incoming council: Ward 4 Youth Councilor James Fletcher-Dean, Ward 5 Youth Councilor Lujane Al-Azem, and Ward 11 Youth Councilor Spencer Reid. The discussion was a lively one, as many of the group are currently in secondary or post-secondary education or graduated from those systems and had plentiful experiences to contribute. The discussion covered several topics, from the impact of teachers to whether curriculums are up-to-date to the fairness of standardized tests.

Who Should Read This?

  • Youth currently in the educational system
  • Youth who have dropped out of the educational system
  • Educators, administrators, and guidance counsellors

Questions and Answers

Kayley began the meeting by asking the group a series of questions on their view of education and the impact education has had on them. Here are their thoughts.

Why is education important? What impact does education have on you?

  • Education is important because it is still being contested – specifically girls still aren’t allowed in some places and they have to fight for their right to education
  • It drives the world forward
  • We spend majority of time in education system, shaped into ourselves
  • Information is what makes us human
  • It’s where we spend both the most money and the most hope
  • Education impacts moral system and our compass for what is right and wrong
  • Through education we learn communication skills, interaction, modelling, peers
  • One member of the group shared that for them university in particular was less about specific learnings than the people and experience –  more about personally formative learnings than hard skills.
  • School creates compliance, routine, skewed view of efficiency

Is education just in school? Does education end when school ends?

  • Education is mainly in school, but you do learn through everything.
  • It’s hard to find other places that have specific resources for education, but you learn everywhere you go.
  • Education doesn’t end with school – we learn throughout our entire lives.

What do your friends think about school?

  • One of the councillors shared that lot of his friends don’t respect school
  • One councillor found that at her school, people will say they don’t care about school in front of their friends, but they do put in the work when it comes down to it.
  • One councillor shared that there is a sort of hierarchy in her school where people rank each other in social system based on grades.
  • One member of the group shared that when a friend of hers transitioned from homeschool to public high school, there was a different attitude and people seemed less invested in their education

Learning Styles

The discussion shifted to learning styles and whether the current education system we have fully caters to them or not.

  • Almas argued that in our current system, dynamic, diverse intelligence gets narrowed to fit one style of teaching. Because of that one set way of doing things, a lot of people don’t reach their full potential.
  • Going to school in a rural area, Kayley would take online classes in cases where there weren’t enough students to have an in-person class. While the online format worked well for her, it was not for everyone.
  • Meegan noted the perception of people’s intelligence that comes from the hierarchy of learning styles, comparing the Academic and Applied streams as well as different high schools in London that are associated with “failed” students, when really these schools just feature a more hands-on learning style which is what some students need.
  • Almas added that in her high school, classrooms arranged activities for extroverts, and there was a sense that if you were not extroverted, you were labeled as a misfit. Lujane added that this continues into university where participation marks are a sizeable grade in many classes.

The group discussed that the “one right way” approach is especially frustrating when looking at certain school subjects, such as Art and English, where there should not be one right answer, and many of the group shared stories of being discouraged from thinking outside the box. This brings to mind what Almas said about people being unable to reach their full potential. She added not just that if a student is doing well in school, they may get labelled as apathetic and treated differently, and it’s easy for students to internalize that.

This “one right way” trend carries to evaluation as well. The group discussed standardized tests. Here are some of their thoughts:

  • There is too much of a focus on standardized tests. There should be diagnostics but there needs to be a fuller evaluation as well to best serve students and their unique needs and learning styles.
  • On paper, standardized tests are fair because it is one set of questions to evaluate the population by, but at the same time, standardized tests don’t allow for success for all learning styles
  • Some schools lack the resources to help struggling students do well on standardized tests, and since these tests can be used to determine what schools should get funding, it can become a continuous issue
  • There is some benefit standardization because the data can be useful, and other metrics that wouldn’t be evaluated by a standardized test can be hard to define.

The Educators

Maia expressed that education would mean nothing without the impact of teachers, which led Kayley to ask the group whether teachers make or break their educational experience. Here are several of the thoughts and experiences the group shared:

  • One councillor is studying literature in post-secondary because of a high school teacher who was passionate about the subject and instilled that in her students
  • When a teacher explains a concept and shows that they care about the subject and the students, students want to give those learnings a chance.
  • The way mistakes are dealt with is important. In the case of one teacher, half of their students would drop course within a week and turn away from the subject entirely because of a hostile environment for mistakes.
  • Another teacher was open to boosting people’s’ grades 1 or 2 percentage if they needed it for scholarship cutoffs. It underlines how much a student’s future is in the hands of their teachers.
  • A teacher would tell a class that no one would be getting scholarships.
  • A teacher who used the infamous “look at the person next to you – they’re going to fail” line.
  • Several members of the group expressed some frustration with the way some teachers end up teaching courses that are not their specialization.
  • Subjective grading or grading that doesn’t make sense when their work is similar to friends who have higher grades.

Another topic that came up was subject areas that members of the group found lacking in their school experience.

  • The need for some basic coding courses. Technology is changing how a lot of jobs look and the group argued that the educational system is not keeping up.
  • Changing up Careers classes, which members of the group argued is too focused on resume-building/cover letter writing. One councillor noted that when she changed schools, they taught a different style of resume. Another member of the group noted that when she submitted a resume for class that had actually gotten her a job, she received a lower grade than expected because it was not in the recommended style.

Looking for Guidance

Teachers aren’t the only figures who have major influence on a student’s success at school. Several members of the group shared their experiences with school guidance counsellors.

  • Trying to take online courses, but the guidance counsellor steering her away from them.
  • One member of the group shared their experience with a guidance counsellor who would tell specifically students of colour not to go to college
  • Planning to go to college and being advised that she was too smart for college, as if there is only one path to/for intelligence.
  • Encountering frustration with trying to get help from counselors who would just tell her to wait and see.

Almas offered a positive example she found in the guidance counsellor at King’s. She said he is realistic, gives good advice, and doesn’t make students feel stupid for asking questions. Kayley had been to the same counsellor and named him as a good example of how you need someone to advocate for you as a student.

Systems and Internalization

There are many reasons why students can struggle in the school system beyond the educators and other personnel. Here are some thoughts from the group on why students may have difficulty finishing school:

  • Home life and other social issues
  • If someone sees themselves at the bottom, they will resent the education system, and that resentment makes it hard to finish.
  • Poverty and discrimination in the system. Suspension rates are higher for black and Aboriginal students.
  • Health issues and the fear of catching up on absences
  • A lot of people don’t express what it is that is causing them to struggle, especially in the case of things like mental health issues and poverty
  • Once you go to school there is variety of social classes and different cultural backgrounds can be treated differently and isolated.

Kayley asked the group is they had any final thoughts. James turned to the topic of funding. He stated that the funding for schools is absurd, specifically that the funding gap is too large between schools. James pointed out that you can learn a lot about a community by the local school. Almas added that the communities that need funding do not get it, and vice versa. Meegan noted that some of the communities where schools receive less funding show telltale signs of less support from the city, such as potholes and other infrastructure issues.

Personal Stories

Grace expressed that it was hard for her to relate to some of the experiences of the other councilors coming from a different school system in China. She shared some of her own experiences and perceptions she found in her own school system that offered some different dimensions for the councilors to consider.

  • Going to university in China rather than studying abroad was considered by some to be “giving up.”
  • She was taught by both Chinese and Canadian teachers who gave her different messages. The Canadians would tell her to be an active learner, where her Chinese teachers would tell her to focus on working hard.
  • She also shared a story of a student who had stolen something being shamed at the morning flag ceremony. That student ended up dropping out.

Big Questions

  • How can we create a system that encourages multiple learning styles?
  • How do we change the thinking away from believing there is one right way to learn?
  • Why do we have grades, particularly for subjects that shouldn’t necessarily have one right answer?

Things We Still Need to Learn

  • What are some examples of alternative learning systems we can find? How do these systems address some of the issues we have found with our current system?