The New Way of Learning

Naturally, people planning to immigrate to Canada are concerned with getting their own credentials and education on track. But another important thing to know about is the primary and secondary educational system – how will the move to Canada affect the children? Will they get all the tools and knowledge they need for future success?

In general, the Canadian school system is traditional in terms of transferring knowledge. A teacher relays information and concepts to the students, who in turn get tested on their understanding of those concepts after a certain amount of study and practice.

But as knowledge and technology change at an increasing pace, education will change as well. With a wealth of knowledge at their fingertips, internet-savvy students will need more than an “all-knowing” teacher in their classroom. They will also need a facilitator, who will show students the possibilities and moderate the stream of information.

Coquihalla Middle School in Merritt, BC has embraced this new way of learning. They’ve created a class of Grade 8 students, who embarked on a pilot project for the 2011/2012 school year. Even though every subject was open for the students to try out different methods of learning to achieve the requirements of the curriculum, the Math class clearly stood out: it was carried out entirely online.

Every student was registered with the Distance Education school of the associated school district, and received a personal access code to the online class. Sheldon Stuttard, math teacher for the students in the pilot project, explains the concept of the 12-unit course:

• students worked at their own pace, not only in school, but also from home (or any computer with internet access)
• marking followed the concepts of Assessment for Learning (AFL) – each student had the possibility to take practise quizzes and review notes for an unlimited number of tries, until they felt comfortable enough to take the unit test, which was then marked
• the personalized online access for each student also enabled parents to check on the progress and marks of their children at any time by logging into their account.

According to Stuttard, the fact that each student was able to work at his or her own pace was one of the biggest advantages of the course. There were even times when students used math-class time to get other subject work done, and then did their math work from home. “It’s very forward-thinking to have the flexibility to work on something when you feel most ready for it,” Stuttard says.

Another benefit for the students of working at an individual pace was their ability to breeze through units that came easily to them, and spend more time on parts of the course they were struggling with. This also encouraged the forming of peer groups, with individual students acting as tutors to help out some of their classmates.

While the concept was deemed a success, it was not without challenges.

The shift from being taught in a traditional way to self-directed independent learning did not come easily for the students. “In September and October there were a lot of frustrated kids saying to me: Just tell me what to do and I’ll go do it.”, says Stuttard. Even though support from the teacher and school was available, it was up to the students to find their motivation to complete the assignments.

But in the long run, even the challenge of moving from traditional to independent learning will be beneficial for the students – as they move into High School, they will already be familiar with the concept of self-directed learning, which will be expected from them as they make their way through the last years of school.

Canada already has an international reputation for having high educational standards for a variety of professions. Introducing forward-thinking concepts like independent learning and online classes at an early age will enable children of immigrants and Canadians alike to grow up with all the knowledge and tools they need for success. Ultimately, it will put students in remote areas and even those studying from other countries on an even playing field with students in large Canadian urban centres.

Canadian Newcomer Issue 44