There is much ado lately around the purpose of education. As I near the end of an education career, it is fascinating to me how much things change and yet how much they stay the same. While there is much in the literature and has been forever; by default, a system is designed to maintain the status quo. It takes a great deal of effort and courage to gain momentum outside this natural tendency toward the status quo.
We should be learning many things related to the recent downturn in the economy in Alberta and, in fact, worldwide. Our current education system was more or less designed to produce compliant and knowledgeable factory workers. And really, not much has changed from a “systems” perspective. We still argue the merits of a school calendar based on how that calendar affects our family. And in the end, regardless of which or whose logic wins the current debate, it’s mostly one size fits all. This is but one, simple example.
I think what the current Alberta context has clearly demonstrated is the absolute need, rather than a want, for maximum flexibility. It’s true that one important purpose of school is to assist in the socialization of children. Saying that, in today’s mobile world, there are so many other opportunities in the day to support that purpose. Community offers so much as well toward this goal: sports, library, fine arts and more. While school offers a tremendous opportunity for a child and family to begin to build a network, this is hardly the only alternative today.
It seems that an option for students in today’s work world and that of the future includes making their own work. A static knowledge-based curriculum has only limited relevance and should no longer be considered the base from which to build a program for students. You will get no argument from me that basic literacy and numeracy skills are crucial; they are. In fact, it’s these skills that should be the building blocks. After that, does it really matter? Which tidbits of content are most relevant? Well, if you’re playing the TV game show Jeopardy, I guess you won’t know that until you’re on the show!
Sure, some background in history, geography, science, fine arts, wellness, trades types of skills and economics are more than helpful to all. But how much detail in these areas are needed? And by which students? Today’s family situations in a new economy yearn for flexibility. Thus, it will become even more problematic for the current school system to remain relevant.
The current curricular reform in Alberta, in my opinion, is a bold and courageous right step in the right direction. In my mind, an important question is, “Will this be enough soon enough?” What we see in Alberta is also happening world-wide. Political and economic realities seem to be polarizing our society even more into have and have-not citizens.
If anything, the current and future purpose of education must to be assist in the goal of improved equity, period. Without an improved sense of fairness in our community, province and country and beyond, the current issues we face will continue to grow across our globe. Equal and equitable are not the same thing. And that can be very difficult to reconcile.