I have had the benefit of experiencing education in two different systems.
I spent my first 10 years attending a private school overseas, one that focused on discipline, rigour and the measurement of achievement primarily through student exams beginning in Grade 3. We studied (memorized!) dates, equations and formulas out of textbooks simply to pass each test. Students who couldn’t keep up with the structured instruction and assessment failed the grade and were kept behind to repeat the year. I saw stress, struggle and shame among friends who tried but weren’t always successful.
When I moved into the Canadian public education system, I revelled in the multiple approaches to learning. Research for class projects satisfied my curiosity and allowed me to explore beyond prescribed readings. There were options for students to focus on music and arts, technology and the skilled trades. I saw support for different learning styles. I saw success, measured in a variety of ways. But I still saw struggle, and sometimes shame, among my peers who faced disadvantages. Student programs did not always reflect the diverse cultural realties of our student body. And participation in specialized activities often highlighted economic disparities.
The challenges to create equitable learning opportunities for all students are constant in any education system, a system developed to structure learning on a mass scale. Neither are they new. The discourse around disproportionate funding, geography and shifting demographics pervades. However, to truly empower every child for success, it is incumbent on educators, school boards and governments to prioritize addressing the needs of all students, creating equity in curriculum and schools, and removing obstacles to opportunities.
This is no small task, but it isn’t insurmountable. It is possible to reach every student in Canada and it is encouraging to see educators continue to debate, discuss and tackle equity issues with innovation and zeal. Programs such as Sistema Global and the Oasis Skateboard Factory are just two of many examples breaking down barriers and challenging the traditional classroom to reach students in a manner that is responsive to their needs.
Canada is consistently ranked a world leader in education. Staying near the top requires a relentless focus on ensuring equitable education experiences for all Canadian students irrespective of gender, ethnicity, personal or social circumstance.
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