Ever had a slow drip from your tap? Something is wrong. It is something you notice, but don’t seem to have the time, skill or interest to repair it. But sooner or later, you get it fixed or stop noticing and live with it. As an educator focused on human potential, it is my view that education in Canada is a slow drip that is quietly picking up speed.
In a 2016 survey of top executives, The World Economic Forum found that the most important competencies for 2020 — just over a year away — are complex problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, and emotional intelligence. Skills that are not being fully developed or realized in our mechanized, compliance-based, content-focused school curriculums. In a New York Times Opinion piece, Dr. Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist, recently stated, “Academic excellence is not a strong predictor of career excellence.” And while I agree, I believe education is the foundation for realized potential with maturation.
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business in a 2018 study, cited the top three skills required in new hires are motivation, a positive attitude and strong communication, and professionalism. Employers surveyed indicated less than 40% of high school and university graduates possess these qualities. I know firsthand as a mother and an educator that someone can teach these things when prioritized, with a focus on developing these relational capabilities.
While almost every major system — manufacturing, banking, communication, healthcare — has transformed, education has yet to integrate changes that ensure the practical value of the resources put into education are realized after students leave the classroom. On the eve of 2019, I write this OP-ED to create a sense of awareness and urgency. It is time for education and the school system to respond to our changing world, and like the dripping faucet, proven solutions exist. It is the effort to execute on them that will make the change real.
Education at all levels needs new structures offering our children opportunities to engage with different ages, hands-on experiences, and viewpoints. This develops comfort with a diversity of thought, communication and collaboration capability that supports thriving with creativity and compassion in this changing world. I have built my career in Montessori education and know although only one model; it offers proof there are viable alternatives to today’s antiquated classroom experience.
Despite the cry for better from our students and graduates from the corporate world, our politicians and educators smugly cite scores on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). While our students’ rank is strong and considerably higher than our neighbours south of the border, the scores are misleading. Despite annual testing, student improvement in the last ten years has been static. Our high ranking continues because other countries are declining. More alarming than that, is that PISA does not assess many of the primary skills and qualities that leaders in industry say are vital to a thriving and employable population.
Author Yuval Noah Harari, in 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, proposes a wake up to societal changes that are already occurring and could leave humans behind: artificial intelligence (AI), biotechnology and environmental changes. A thriving Canada requires individuals, governments and businesses adapt quickly, collaborating and thinking creatively. “The last thing a teacher needs to give her pupils is more information,” Harari says. “People need the ability… to combine many bits of information into a broad picture of the world.” This is one of the key tenets of the Montessori approach I have been privileged to watch take hold.
If school boards, ministries of education and education faculties continue their focus on single grades, providing the similar content for all, and presenting subjects in isolation we disadvantage our youth and our country in this competitive world. While I applaud the efforts of new programs like coding or STEM, longer teacher training, and increased use of technology it is my view they dabble around the edges of the problem. Although counter-intuitive to change and progress, I support Daniel Willingham, cognitive science view that when used opportunities for choice and hands-on experiences with manipulatives are superior to creating a learning environment that is technology forward. This material view to education instead, will set our children up for the ambiguous future they are about to face.
After almost thirty-five years in education and parenting, the best solution I have seen so far is authentic, accredited Montessori education. Research shows publicly funded Montessori nurtures motivation, effective communication, collaboration, compassion, and creative thinking as well as strong academics regardless of a student’s culture or socio-economic status. But accessibility for all students is essential. As parents, I challenge you to demand publicly funded Montessori programs. As educators, I challenge you to implement Montessori training, in our education faculties. Montessori education, when delivered as a whole system is proven. Although misunderstanding of the approach still prevails, the program undeniably could set Canada’s future on a course to deal with the volatile, unpredictable and chaotic times ahead. Isn’t that really the practical opportunity and privilege that educators have with our children?
Could 2019 be the year we fix the drip in education to more earnestly explore broader access to structures of education that step out of the traditional and instead align with helping Canadian children reach their potential?