The work of educators is absolutely critical in shaping the future. Entering 2018, Grade 3 assessments are looming. The results of past assessments have not met expectations. This isn't a new outcome: test results have been plummeting in writing, reading and mathematics since 2014. It's a great source of stress for all involved.
Children come to school from diverse backgrounds. Poverty, mental/physical health, stresses, early experiences and so much more all play a part in shaping the child. Expecting that all 8 year-old children should perform at the same academic level in spite of this is unrealistic. Education should be about the whole child, and when we look at the whole child, the situations at home are vastly different, which inevitably leads to varied school experiences.
Research- and evidence-based best practice models strongly suggest another way forward. We need only look to Finland, which has the top ranked education system in the world.
Consideration of brain development is core to why Finland is so successful. Free play is valued for young children. The objectives of the education system are for children to be happy, to be critical thinkers and who are self aware. In the absence of blanket assessments, they have a unique, individually tailored “whatever it takes approach” providing substantial supports early on for children who are struggling emotionally and academically. Once the age-appropriate developmental stages have been supported, nurtured and developed, the child is ready to learn. At the early ages of 5-7 the goal should be to instill a love of learning, fostering curiosity, cultivating interest, building social skills and above all else, free play!
Our public school system is challenged to reverse the decline seen in our students’ academic experience. Our wait times for psychoeducational assessments are at least 3 years. The mental health of our students is at risk. We do not have enough resources in our schools to support student learning. Teachers are individualizing and customizing lessons for many different learners in their classrooms and are left stressed over teaching to the test instead of what they know to be most important. We have skilled and passionate educators, but impossible expectations are burning school personnel out. This is not a sustainable approach, nor is it a successful one.
Islanders want our children to do well and to succeed, and we need vision if we are going to achieve that. Here on Prince Edward Island, we have the unique gift of being small. Our size allows us the opportunity to be creative. We should be considering the evidence-based models of educational success that exist in other places and look at how they can be applied locally. A healthy brain equals a healthier person, a healthier life, a healthier family, a healthier community, healthier systems, a healthier economy and a healthier society. Now that should be the goal of our education system here on Prince Edward Island!
Karla Bernard is a teacher and is the Green Party of PEI's Shadow Critic for Education.