The LYAC sat down on Thursday, February 25th, 2016 at the London Boys and Girls Club to discuss ‘public education’. The Ontario government funded public education system extends from Kindergarten to Grade 12. Additionally, the majority of post-secondary institutions such as colleges and universities are also partly subsidized and/or funded by the government. For the sake of this report, the term ‘public education’ will refer to all formal education that is publicly funded in some manner, from JK all the way to post-secondary. This report will outline personal experiences and issues with the current public education system, primarily focusing on the individual experiences of the LYAC councillors.
As well, Jeremiah Greville, a LYAC Storyteller, wrote a short story related to the topic of public education that you can view here.
WHO SHOULD READ THIS…AND WHY?
- University and college students
- High school students
- Members of the Ontario Teachers’ Federation
- Future potential teachers (possible Teacher’s college applicants)
- OCT (Ontario College of Teachers)
- Ontario Ministry of Education
- Ontario school boards (including TVDSB)
- Ontario MPPs and MPs
The public education system plays a key role in educating, influencing, and nurturing young people. Industries and employers rely on the public education system to supply their demand for a skilled labour force. This is a contentious issue for young people and a very interesting topic to discuss. Society is constantly evolving and the public education system must evolve in correlation with our society. A government’s emphasis on strong public education is integral in building a strong economy with valuable highly skilled workers.
Public education is a very relatable subject for the LYAC. The conversation was highly reminiscent and inspired great involvement amongst the council. Nothing brings undivided attention to a group of youth councillors like a conversation about education! The primary recurring topics discussed by the councillors are listed below:
Issues with the Current Education System
Teachers are the front and centre of the public education system. They are unionized, well paid, and have high expectations. Councillors were quick to point out that a “bad teacher” was not always one from the beginning. Newly hired teachers spend lots of time lesson planning and finding creative ways to teach content, however, they quickly feel ‘burnt out’ during the first few years of their careers and they lose their passion and drive. They become repetitive, blah, and passionless. Another issue that affects quality of teachers is the system in place. Powerful teachers’ unions negatively affect the hiring of great teachers and the removal of incompetent teachers. The system is flawed and the councillors illustrated that the greatest problem with this system is that it is difficult to get good teachers in and bad teachers out.
A great teacher is one whom caters to everyone, passionate about learning and teaching, loves young people, relatable, and caring. Councillors were quick to agree that a great teacher isn’t necessary one who knows a lot of content but is one who has the right philosophy towards teaching. Teachers often close doors for students by making them fear a certain subject. Relatable teachers that are passionate and whom are able to build relationships with students and help them grow are what the system needs. However, there is some onus on how willing the classroom is willing to learn the subject. We cannot place all the blame all on teachers as students play a role too!
Disconnect from Reality:
The councillors all agreed that one of the greatest flaws of the education system is that it fails to provide youth with basic necessary life skills. These skills include: filing taxes, managing personal finances, finding employment, buying a car, buying a home, etc. High school fails to reflect the reality of the actual job market. One volunteer stated that “when you’re in high school you think that only so many careers exist, but then you get out and realize that there are so many more different jobs out there”. Secondary school limits the possibilities for youth.
Another topic discussed was the stigma around going to college. Most students in today’s education system feel that they need to purse a university education to be successful, but what they are not taught is that they should consider the job market and its demands. Overall, the current education system lacks practicality.
In today’s public education system there is tremendous focus on learning and memorizing content rather than learning skills. Students are never really taught how to learn. There is too much emphasis on memorization and not enough on understanding. Teachers often neglect the abstract concepts and students are left wondering, “Why do we need to know this?” Students are drilled with facts and concepts to be tested on and are discouraged from asking “why?” It is much easier to understand concepts if you know the meaning behind them or the real life applications that utilize them.
The current public education system instills the wrong values in students. Students are instilled with the idea to learn for better grades rather than to learn for the sake of knowledge and skills. The goal is to always obtain high marks and not actually learn new things. Society has built a system that requires benchmarks for education. This causes us to focus on grades but not the actual learning experience; this makes us shy away from certain subjects and material. People who excel in school have often figured out the ins and outs of the system.
It is also important to understand that when it comes to learning, not everyone is equal; we all have different goals, needs, strengths, and weaknesses. Thus it is unfair and wrong to place everyone in the same boat. This is an argument as to why standardized tests are not a great way to test students. Tests are a measure of how well we are able to memorize and regurgitate information and not necessarily our understanding or applications in the real world.
Possible suggestions/alternatives offered during the meeting:
- There should be diversification for English courses (English course for engineering student)
- Maybe there should be leniency in essay writing.
- Projects and essays give you more time and better way to test. There should be a balance (Don’t fully take away testing).
- Smaller testing is better, need more time to learn Standardizing testing shouldn’t be 40-50% of marks.
Is education an ongoing process or does it only span a certain period?
Education is a life-long process from birth until death. However, there is an end to formal education for most of us. Although, councillors acknowledged that we live in a fast paced technologically advanced world that constantly demands new and upgraded skills in order to keep up with technology. It also important to note that learning doesn’t end in university and that life experiences are very important; somethings can’t be learned in school.
What does it mean to be educated?
Many councillors noted that the definition of education is somewhat misconstrued. When most people discuss what it means to be educated they assume a university educated person with a degree or they imagine a philosopher like Socrates. Skylar pointed out that technical skills are often neglected when people discuss education. Why is our view of education so narrow? An example was posed about the difference between the applied and academic streams in Ontario High Schools. There is a real societal misconception that deems high achieving academic students as ‘smart’. Skylar pointed out that, “(I) still don’t know how to fix a car or even put together a computer”, yet her formal education and degree deem her as “smart and educated” by society’s standards. Such vital technical skills are overlooked and aren’t considered to be part of an educated person’s base set.
The councillors were asked to describe vivid moments (positive or negative) experienced within the public education system. Some of the most notable ones were:
- My transition from a French Immersion elementary school to high school was fairly overwhelming. “I went from knowing 40 people but then transitioning and being tossed in a much larger environment and having to deal with not knowing many people” – Skylar
- A few negative experiences that detailed some of the issues discussed were from councillors who had teachers that didn’t actually teach. These teachers lacked passion or drive and would prefer to show a movie rather than prepare material and teach students content. These classes required little work and it was easy to achieve a great mark, but as stated by one councillor, “I felt conflicted. Was it worth receiving that high grade at the cost of not really learning anything?” Such experiences were common amongst councillors.
- “My grade 7 teacher didn’t try to fit all her students in one box. She taught differently to each different student and catered to the different students’ needs” – Elizabeth
Does the public education system in Ontario need to be revamped?
What are the major challenges facing the public education system?
What changes must be made for the future?
What does the job market demand from public education?
Are Ontario schools providing the job market with marketable and skilled workers?
Does public education provide students with necessary life skills?
Some of the councillors did not acknowledge or understand the importance of a well-rounded education. I believe that it is not enough to merely excel at a single passion or career. In today’s society, one of the primary goals of the public education system is to create well-rounded, educated youth. While I used to have a similar reaction to my education, my opinion has changed as I’ve had more time to see the value of a well- rounded education.
It’s important for the education system to create well rounded, appreciative students who are passionate for learning. I have the same appreciation for my Calculus course as I do for my philosophy course or my English course. This is not stating that you must love English or Shakespeare, but a well-educated person should understand the significance of Shakespeare. The animosity towards compulsory English credits was something that I strongly disagreed with. In high school, I was never the creative literary type, in fact I suffered from terrifying public speaking anxiety, which was a major issue that I faced in English courses. However, I greatly valued my experience studying English because it taught me many valuable skills such as creative writing, analytical thinking skills, critical thinking skills, and the ability to connect ideas and dig deeper to find the meaning behind literary works. English courses also taught me to appreciate literature by exposing me to classic literature that I would’ve never read if I hadn’t been enticed to read it. This opened my eyes; I learned that novels were not just tales of adventures or dramatic retellings but they were collections of allegory, themes, and morals that authors used to express social and moral issues.
There were some issues that I felt were missing from the conversation. A more in depth discussion could have included a conversation pertaining to lockouts, teachers unions, and teachers’ strikes. These have been major recent issues in Ontario that have affected many youth and families. In a future conversation about education, I would advocate that a more pressing conversation is had about these topics as they play a much larger role in the operations of the public education system.
There were many unexplored themes, viewpoints, and experiences throughout this conversation. I found this conversation to be very biased (which is fair) because it was a one-sided argument put forth by current and recent former students; the opinions of teachers and educators were not present or considered. Also, the councillors and volunteers all represented a much younger viewpoint. This is an important perspective, and is often missing from conversations about education, but it would be interesting to see how the perspectives of teachers and educators meshed with the councillors and volunteers.
Overall, this was not a difficult topic to discuss. The meeting was highly engaging and generated a collaborative response from the majority of councillors. The relatability of the topic made it a fun and open conversation that is highly necessary for young people to have as they are the major proponents of the public education system.
WHAT WE STILL NEED TO LEARN
The next steps for the LYAC and anyone concerned with the current status of public education is to brainstorm and evaluate “how to change” current problems and “how to” improve the current system. The need for change is clearly visible; however, a tangible step-by-step approach is still missing.