We live in a very diverse country and there is no better place to see that diversity than in our education system: urban, rural, Aboriginal, immigrant, inner city, large and small schools. These are just some of the factors that challenge schools today with respect to equity in education. With the vast diversity in our schools, we can’t have a one size fits all approach to deal with inequities. Schools alone cannot be expected to ensure equity in learning for all students. Legislation and policy can work to ensure equity in some areas, but with all the challenges for tax dollars there will never be enough money to address the many forms of inequity in the education system. So how do we all work to ensure that all children receive an equitable education regardless of where they live, their circumstances, where they go to school and how they learn? Schools will need to looks outside of their walls for the solutions. They will need to embrace and build on the diversity of learners, their families and the support systems within their communities to address some of the challenges.
It would seem that there are two big challenges that schools and community must overcome and address.
- Over the last few decades, there is an expectation by society that the education system shall have the responsibility for addressing some of the issues around raising our youth – i.e. poverty and hunger, immigrant and settlement issues, etc. Because funding is tight for many agencies, it seems that it is easier to download some of the issues onto the schools to deal with rather than find ways to address it within their own agency. It seems that the education system is then left to not only provide education to our youth, but also to support the social needs of our most vulnerable students. Schools cannot do this work alone, nor should they be expected to.
- The perception – and in some instances – the reality is that schools have become silos within the community. Rod Paige wrote that “one of the biggest problems of schools today is that they have pulled themselves away from the public”. If the education system is to address the equity issues in their schools in the future, they will need to open their doors to the community.
Thomas Segiovanni defines community as “collections of people bonded together by mutual commitments and special relationships, who together are bound to a set of shared ideas and values that they believe in, and feel compelled to follow. This bonding and binding helps them become members of a tightly knit web of meaningful relationships and moral overtones. In communities of this kind, people belong, people care, people help each other make and keep commitments, people feel responsible for themselves and responsible to others.” Our communities are an untapped and wealthy resource waiting to be discovered and invited in. The potential for community contributions to support and enhance student learning is huge. Peter Gretz states that “By building partnerships with existing agencies and groups within the community, school leaders can enhance student achievement and success by creating learning communities that have access to resources beyond those within the school.”
Our communities are an untapped and wealthy resource waiting to be discovered and invited in. The potential for community contributions to support and enhance student learning is huge.
We believe that if schools are to be successful in ensuring an equitable education for all our youth, society will need to change the way schools and the community view education: how it is delivered and who is responsible. It will require time and commitment by everyone. Schools and community will need to work together to identify the challenges to ensuring equity within their schools and then find the solutions together. How each school and respective community addresses these issues will be different as no two schools or communities are the same. However, regardless of the school, community or inequity trying to be addressed, the mission should remain the same: “It takes a community to raise a child”. All it takes is an open door and an invitation… so what are we waiting for?
Related Education Canada articles:
- Whole Education: Provoking a Movement for Change in the UK
- Parent Advocacy: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly