Education’s future on-island discussed

  • Apr. 8, 2011 5:00 p.m.

By Heather Ramsay–Giving students iPads is not the answer, according to several teachers, parents and students at a School District presentation on the future of education. School District 50 superintendent Angus Wilson spoke to almost 25 people at Queen Charlotte Secondary on March 31 on the topic of “Personalized Learning in the 21st century.” He is seeking feedback from all ages and hopes parents, elders, teachers and students alike will take the time to consider how to engage students in a changing world and what that means for the school system. Mr. Wilson raised a number of provocative questions during his hour-long presentation, including: Do we need to buy textbooks? Why do we have classrooms or even school buildings? Who should be in the same class? Is it about age or education level? Do we still need to teach cursive handwriting? How do we honour Haida Gwaii in our school system? He also defined “personalized learning” as small class sizes (not really a concern here), project-based assignments, more advisors, anytime/anyplace learning, field studies, team teaching, out of school credits and more. Mr. Wilson said personalized learning is not meant to be pandering to students. “They will still have to take math.” It is just the way they learn math could change. Some teachers and schools are already doing a lot of these things, he said, but not universally across the district. He clarified that he is not a Luddite, nor a proponent of every idea to embrace the digital age. “Progress doesn’t mean better,” he said. “It’s different.” He gave the example of the Haida canoe, an incredible design, perfected, built and used for many years on the islands. But by the early 1900s things had shifted and boat builders began to create plank boats, crafts that took less manpower to finish. This shift brought a significant change to the islands way of life and skill set. He didn’t judge whether it is good or bad. Just different. “For everything we gain, we lose something as well,” he said. The world is changing, he said. Are we ready for it? The world’s oil supply is in decline. The population will soon be over 7 billion. The best jobs today did not exist five years ago. In one of the short YouTube movies he showed students said there are more people in China who receive honours marks than there are students in America. Mr. Wilson noted that school has always been a place where knowledge is transfered from teachers to students. Teaching is based on the notion that simpler facts lead to increasingly complex ones and student success is determined through tests. He questioned whether this was still relevant in an age where students can instantly find information about the number of moons around Jupiter on the NASA website- more accurate information than even the latest textbooks contain. Teachers, he said can not be expected to hold all the information anymore. There is too much out there. Similar questions are being asked throughout the province, and the Ministry of Education is toying with the graduation program already, he said, so changes toward more self-directed learning may be coming anyway. Several teachers spoke at the presentation. They were concerned that focusing on technology may not be the most beneficial way to teach.”So many students don’t have the patience or discipline to use technologies,” said one teacher. Another said the teacher’s style and ability to engage the students makes the biggest difference to a student. As for whether a physical school is needed in the face of on-line education, both teachers and parents who attended said the social aspect of school is as important as the learning. “I don’t think there will ever be a time when we don’t need a school or teachers,” one person said. “I don’t want students to have an iPad,” said a Grade 8 teacher. He said young learners need more character based learning. “It’s about being connected to this place,” he said. “How many 11 year olds need more screen time,” said another person. Even one of the young people in the room said that iPads in the classroom are not a good idea. “It would be a distraction,” she said. Others discussed the amount of bandwidth and electricity needed to run a school full of computers and how the content on these machines would be monitored. Others expressed concerns about health impacts of constant exposure to wireless networks. School district trustee Christine Martynuik said she was disappointed that more young people hadn’t come to the presentation. “We didn’t engage them,” she said. Others suggested getting students to discuss these questions on Facebook or having Mr. Wilson present directly to students during class time. Mr. Wilson presented the topic again at GM Dawson Secondary in Masset on Tuesday.

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