A number of articles in this issue of Education Canada speak, directly or indirectly, to the question of equity in our educational systems – whether it’s recognizing the different learning styles that might be exhibited by children living in poverty, acknowledging the differential experiences of young people in community-based volunteer programs, or improving access to university programs for inner city and Aboriginal youth.
In “Reel Reform”, a thought-provoking analysis of this year’s educational documentaries from the U.S. and the UK, Stephen Hurley contrasts the American situation with the Canadian: “Even though Canada faces serious challenges when it comes to equity, the gap between rich and poor, and connections between culture, race, and school success, these are not part of the everyday water cooler conversations that Canadians have about school.”
True enough, and based on international comparisons, our system serves most children quite well. But, as Philip Abrami points out in the introduction to his article on the “Toolkit for Learning” developed by the Centre for the Study of Learning and Performance, comparative statistics tell only part of the story. Too many young people continue to drop out of school, too many fail to reach functional levels of literacy and numeracy, and too many of our schools are failing to prepare their students for the knowledge society and economy (see the web-exclusive article by Michele Jacobsen and Sharon Friesen, “Hands-on vs. Hands-up: Technology-enabled Knowledge Building”).
Of course, no system will ever be flawless. It is naïve to believe that all students will experience equal levels of success. The concern is not that our system fails to produce uniformly excellent results, but that its failures are clustered in predictable pockets of the population.
If issues of equity are not part of the “everyday water cooler conversations” in Canadian schools, perhaps they should be. As Hurley’s discussion of the documentaries implies, we need to take a careful look at our failures and determine whether they can be corrected by injecting more resources into a generally successful system, or whether they are broadly enough based that we need to re-examine our underlying definitions of academic and personal success.
We are lucky enough to have an educational system that – while flawed – is not broken. Instead of resting on our laurels, we should take advantage of the fact that we have a solid foundation on which build a structure that can better accommodate all segments of our diverse population. A lively discussion of how to do better should be on the top of our agenda.