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Ontario’s Approach to a Future-Proof Education

Principal Rozario’s article ‘Ontario’s Approach to a Future-Proof Education’ was featured in the September 2022 issue of The Westerly newspaper.

Education in Ontario schools is anything but traditional. During my forty-seven years in education I have seen tremendous evolution. As in many education systems, it seems at times that we recycle old ideas and approaches simply by giving them new labels. Admittedly, I have participated in cynicism in times of frustration; but when I reflect on where we were and where we are with an objective lens, our current approaches to teaching and learning are more effective than ever.  

Students being educated in the Ontario system are much better prepared to take on the challenges that lay ahead. What is vital to our success is that we have expanded our attention in these past two decades from focusing completely on what students have to learn and have incorporated strategies that teach students how to learn. Access to information and knowledge is changing so fast that we really don’t know what students will need to know in five years time.  We are certain however, that if we teach them how to learn, then they will be able to access, critically analyze and apply new knowledge.

It is no longer sufficient to expose students to information, facts and algorithms which lead them to solving contrived problems. The problems they will face don’t exist yet. An Ontario education such as what a student will receive at Maple Leaf puts equal value on ‘the how’ and ‘the why’ behind the what. Students are required to demonstrate an understanding and explain what they have learned. A straight regurgitation of facts, or following a sequence of memorized steps to reach a solution does not prepare students well and furthermore is knowledge that is quick to dissipate over time.  

When a student is taught with a requirement of understanding, then knowledge is retained indefinitely because it can be applied in multiple contexts. Going hand in hand with teaching for understanding are the strategies used for measuring a student’s skills and knowledge. 

Teachers at Maple Leaf and throughout all Ontario schools must use three components to measure a student’s achievement. These components are observation, conversation and product. Traditionally we would have only assessed students’ products. Products being the grades earned on a test, assignment, lab report, project or essay. In our current approach to assessing students, teachers need to conference with students, and students are required to speak about what they know, defend what they know and explain why. Teachers are also required to observe students while they are learning, providing feedback and measuring collaboration, teamwork, initiative and persistence.  

Evaluations in Ontario schools must encompass knowledge, thinking and inquiry, application and communication. A student’s grade is never simply based on knowledge. Lessons are interactive in as many situations as possible. Investigations, self-directed learning activities and discovery are commonplace in our classrooms. In Ontario schools students are provided with multiple opportunities to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding. They are also required to show their competence through multiple formats. Several methods are used to assess a student’s knowledge, skill and expertise such as video presentations, verbal presentations, building models and doing demonstrations for their teachers and peers.  Students develop confidence speaking in front of a group and responding  to questions from their teachers and peers. These skills are transferable beyond high school and the classroom as many of our students will follow a path to leadership where they will be required to lead groups, collaborate and provide rationale for their plans.

Students are encouraged to learn from multiple sources, books, teachers, peers, the internet, other sources in their community and beyond; but most importantly they are guided to analyze and think critically about what they have learned. They are taught to verify and validate information so that they can support the authenticity of their new found knowledge.  

Some people might argue that students these days don’t know as much as they did at their age.  I beg to differ. Students graduating from an Ontario school in this decade have much more knowledge, whether it be access to or understanding of, than the students I taught forty years ago. More importantly, they have a deeper understanding, and the ability to question and analyze compared to my students of forty years ago. Suffice it to say, today’s graduates from the Ontario system of education are more information savvy. Unlike students of past generations, they are required to do more than just just to learn and accept. Our students are equipped with the skills to challenge and explain new information, as well as to adapt what they learn and apply it in new contexts.  

An Ontario Education is preparing students for the future, preparing them to learn, analyze and improve what lies ahead.  Bring on the 21st century, our graduates are ready.