Our schools are failing to adapt to the evolution of education

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Last week in this space, the grim accusation was made that our education system is failing our Northern students and we parents are to blame. How can that be so?

Bruce Valpy, Publisher, NNSL Media, Northern News Services Ltd.Teachers are well paid, have tons of time off, why do they escape responsibility? You can’t hold someone responsible for failing at an impossible task. The shame lies with those in charge – us.

With clear consciences we parents cling to the concept of one teacher standing in front of a class of unformed minds. Yet have not the fields of education, like science, engineering and health care, evolved over the years through trial and error, research and innovation?

Baby boomers, who are now adults, often crow about how discipline used to be dealt with ‘old school style.’

They fondly remember the strap, immediate and prolonged banishment from class if not the school, flunking, the blunt instruments of an ‘old school’ teacher’s tool box. None of that happens now. Discipline problems are the stuff of detailed support plans based upon education protocol, designed to salvage the best of the student despite the challenges.

Learning problems used to be dealt with using some rusty implements of the above tool box. There was the added option of placing the ‘problem’ child and their learning requirements in an entirely different school with all the other ‘problem’ children.

These days, learning disabilities are not allowed to define the child. Instead, the curriculum and teaching environment is altered to, again, get the best success for the student despite the challenges.

Then we come to the recent invention of mental health. Not very long ago, there was only one solution for psychological ailments – ignore them and pressure the sufferers to ignore them, ‘be stronger, act normal,’ they were advised.

Now we know mental health is akin to physical health and everyone suffers from the ups and downs of both.

Educators know learning is affected by the emotional life of students. Counselling can make a bad situation better, just as good nutrition can reverse the weakening effects of hunger or poor nutrition.

With all this worthy progress in educational theory, how is it possible one teacher could spin all these fragile dishes atop spindly round sticks and not have at least half fall the floor and shatter? That’s exactly what’s happening. Teachers do their level best to put the pieces back together before launching their less than equipped students up to the next grade and eventually out the school doors to the real world beyond. Their joy can only come from doing their best in a bad situation.

Would it not make more sense to define the roles required for a successful learning environment called the classroom? Why not one teacher for delivering the standard curriculum? One teacher for children requiring assistance with the standard curriculum? Counsellors on staff available for every classroom?

A school system offering these resources would have a fighting chance of providing our student body a reasonable level of academic health.

We can’t forget the North has greater educational, social and economic challenges than the average school district in the south where the present school curriculum is created.

We have a well-documented history of steamrolling hot tar over Indigenous culture, families and traditional lifestyles. The unspoken attitude is: If it wasn’t made in the south it’s not worth learning. Even the most accomplished and successful Dene, Metis, Inuvialuit and Inuit people must feel the sting of that, if not for themselves then for their families and neighbours.

Such an education revolution that calls for doubling or even tripling the resources in our classrooms may sound naive if not dangerously idealistic. But what if the end result were a rich homegrown workforce for our mines, our stores and our government offices? Next week this column will lay out exactly how it can be done.

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