Equity, Poverty and the Modern Learner

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Image source: towardsmaturity.org

BY: KATHY MCDONALD

Whether you’re a cynic or optimist one thing you can agree on is that these are exciting times for the Black and Caribbean community. The verdict is out on whether these are just pre-election promises or sincere efforts by the powers that be to right a wrong …to right many wrongs. On Thursday, September 7th, the Honorable Mitzie Hunter visited Hillside Public school to make an announcement about the Ministry of Education’s  initiative around equity. The most shocking piece of information I received that morning is that Ontario is the only education system in Canada that streams their students at such an early age. Grade 9 is currently the grade where the province of Ontario requires students to make important decisions about the rest of their lives. At fourteen years old!

This three-year action plan has four main areas of focus. They are the school and the classroom practices; leadership, governance and human resource practices; data collection, integration and reporting and organizing cultural change. How we arrange students, how we teach students and how we assess students are all under the microscope. Leadership and governance training and professional development for trustees are being updated and equity is encouraged to be at the forefront of every decision. Cultural change and data gathering, yes, concrete aggregated data will soon be collected by all boards. To quote the PDSB equity champion, Mary Samuel “The Future we want…….achieving equity for students and staff …”

At the last Board meeting of the Peel District School Board (PDSB) I put forward a motion requesting a report. I am happy to report the motion passed. I put forward this motion as poverty is a key variable in the equity equation. By requisitioning this report the Board of Trustees will be able to determine if the Board is on the right path or if there are any glaring deficiencies. If as a Board we are truly committed to achieving equitable outcomes for all students then poverty has to come to the forefront of the discussion. Invariably the two are married and are inextricably linked. It is time to have an honest discussion about what is happening to school with a high social risk index (SRI).

The SRI is often a useful indicator of the socioeconomic environment of a school population. The SRI is a cumulative indicator that uses nine variables calculated from the Census. The variables used are income, unemployment rate, level of education attained, family status e.g. lone parent families, language competency in one of Canada’s official languages, immigration history, transiency, home ownership, dependency on government transfer payments. In Peel, the SRI is updated using the most current data available to board staff. The highest score a school can realize is nine. A score of nine would signal to the Board, intensive support required.

The information garnered from the SRI is useful in determining what extra financial and pedagogical support can be applied to a school as well as the SRI can identify potential risks in a school. Having the dubious honour of being on the top of the SRI list does not always mean doom and gloom. Within the PDSB there are several examples of schools that are thriving. The recipe for the success of these schools is incorporating administration, teachers, students, parents as well as community partners into the remedies. It is of utmost importance to have parents as partners. As a board, we, in turn, utilize the appropriate resources to facilitate positive outcomes for all students. At the PDSB we are working to brand the neighbourhood school and what that means. Schools are beginning to be seen as a community hub.

Teaching is evolving ever so rapidly and with that the increase of differentiated supports. No longer are students passive participants in their learning. It was not too long ago when students were expected to sit still, listen, regurgitate and not challenge a teacher’s authority.. don’t ask too many questions. A student would invariably be too intimidated to challenge a teacher’s point of view as this would often be interpreted as challenging the teacher’s authority. Fast forward to today where the modern learner is encouraged to ask those critical questions and not accept the status quo. Modern learning has shifted from being heavily technology focused to being about the learner as a whole. Modern learning is about the student’s voice. The modern learner is taught to be a critical thinker that has an inquiring mind. The modern learner is not only interested in foundational knowledge, the modern learner must demonstrate what he or she understands. The impact of learning cannot and ought not to be defined using one quantitative measure.

The education train has left the station and there are potentially a lot of exhilarating and controversial buzz words that have been floating around. When we take the time to truly digest what an equitable educational experience coupled with the power of the modern learner in a classroom near you means to our children and their future: ….we will be filled with optimism as to the positive outcomes that will result from minds that are challenged to their full potential. So, come and journey with me as we awaken the curiosity of your sons and daughters, as we tantalize the critical thinker and enrich the creative juices within each student. Walk Good, Belle Marché.

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