The Ministry of Education’s Superintendent of Careers and Student Transitions met educators on Sept. 20 to flesh out a new direction in pedagogy at the District Education Office in Hope.
Larry Espe highlighted how education needs to evolve towards a project-based and flexible model of learning that captures students who might not have a talent on the books.
“There’s all kinds of definitions of smart and we’ve kind of had a monopoly on it as an education system,” said Espe. “And I guess to this point, we’ve been respectfully, and I mean that absolutely wholeheartedly, respectfully questioning that system, that maybe needs some tweaking.”
He said educators are trying to balance between book-based learning “for those folks who are afraid of going too far too fast” and flexibility “for those who are looking to try new things,” but he feels the education system still biases itself towards the books.
Project-based learning involves students learning a subject through practical experimentation. Espe came loaded with examples of how this worked and how it captured students’ attention.
Students built classroom furniture while learning French. Students built a new high school to get credit. Students went to a hospital to look at samples through laboratory equipment. Students learned fractions through a measuring tape.
“I just found out I’m not stupid, once I was engaged, once I could see there’s a purpose to go to school in the morning, I found some things about myself that I didn’t know,” said Espe, quoting a student.
He suggested that districts need “shoulder tappers,” who develops new projects for learning with businesses and the community, who also gets to know individual students to find out their non-book-based talents.
He also said the Ministry of Education wants students to develop career literacy, defined as understanding their job interests, by infusing opportunities throughout a student’s K-12 education.
However, Espe admits that challenges lie ahead.
“This change is not going to be easy,” said Espe. “We know that … we got a lot of stuff that is in the way that doesn’t need to be there.”
The School Act can prove a challenge.
“Certainly it’s law. You can’t break it,” said Espe. “As long as you’re morally and ethically trying to do things for kids in the right way, I think we should push those boundaries and try some things at all time.”
Espe responded to a question about whether smaller schools will miss out on some opportunities, given their size and inability to offer varied courses.
Espe admitted he does not have a clear answer, but said that scenario might pan out in reverse.
“I will tell you sometimes the opportunities in large districts that have the economies of scale and it all looks easy … it’s been the smaller districts and smaller schools that have been innovating out of necessity,” said Espe.
Espe elaborates that small districts sometimes have problems filling subjects and therefore are forced to innovate curriculum-wise.
He ended his presentation by saying that Fraser-Cascade School District 78 is “based on my time here, you guys are on your way.”