The threats and potentials of our education system

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Pontiac Perspective  Peter J. Gauthier

Our educational system is facing a series

Pontiac Perspective  Peter J. Gauthier

Our educational system is facing a series
of significant problems. School boards have seen their budgets frozen or even reduced, class sizes are increasing, and negotiations with teachers and support staff are marked by disagreement and threats of action. Perhaps it is time to review some fundamental questions about education. Who is it for? What is its purpose? What are the best
methods for providing education?
First, who is it for? We have a standard education model: kindergarten,
elementary school, high school, college, university. We also expect that everyone should complete at least high school and graduate somewhere between the ages of
sixteen to eighteen. College and university are for more advanced studies and specialization. In today’s complex digital world, high school completion is the minimum scholastic requirement to enter the labour force, but with the rapid changes in technology and massive information/communication resources, most
people quickly realize they must keep their skills up-to-date. This leads to one major concern for the education system – how is this to be done and who should be involved?
This issue naturally leads to the second issue. What is the purpose of education? Much emphasis is on job security and economic potential. There is a fairly well established correlation between educational level and economic success – especially if the education is of a technical or scientific bent. What about requirements for good citizenship, tolerant relationships, community activity, and artistic appreciation? With the emphasis on salary and financial security, are some of these, which allow us to live a meaningful, productive life, being ignored? Student achievements are based on “competencies” – essentially, the ability to pass standardized tests. This means that much of the education is aimed at tricks and techniques that will help the student pass the tests. However, the relationship of these tests to the requirements of a meaningful life is remote, and mostly inadequate.
So what are the best methods of providing education at the different levels and for different needs?  How do you teach mathematics to students who have access to
calculators? And how
do you impart the importance of good grammar and precise expression of thought when the student is using a word processor and Twitter encourages improper spelling and grammar? How are
parents to help their
children when math texts use new exploratory math techniques and the new grammar is not overly concerned with traditional grammatical accuracy and clarity? Most significantly, how do you help an individual student when the class has more than thirty students? It is precisely the skills of
critical thinking and expression that are most needed if the student is to become a good citizen and lead a meaningful life that includes a commitment to life-long learning.
Some questions about education do not have easy answers. However, a meaningful engagement in society and hope for the future requires that we continue the search for improvements. As
a community, we must become aware of the threats and potentials of our educational system.