“Equity and Excellence”? Day -4

Yesterday, I showed how an over-reliance on standardized tests leads to a narrow, “joyless” curriculum, as well as stressed teachers and students. Creativity, critical thinking, co-operation and genuine communication (the 21st Century skills that are so important for children) are not easy to test, so in Britain they are taught less and less. There is a spiral effect of low job satisfaction leading to teachers leaving the profession leading to more stress on the ones that are left; this has played out in Britain, and is starting to affect Nova Scotia.

But that is not the end of the story. An increase in standardized testing, combined with the other contentious recommendations of the Glaze report, the College of Educators, the weakening of the teachers’ union and the silencing of voices from the regions is all part of the kind of reforms (GERM) that have led to running education on a business model; a model that will provide the kind of workers that the free market wants – enough literacy to read the manuals and follow instructions. As this is happening, the elite and more ambitious parents will abandon the public system in order to give their children the kind of education that includes the 21st C skills, the arts and everything else lacking in the state system. The state system will get worse, as the government finds ways to cut costs, sometimes by contracting it out to corporations, and as disheartened teachers move away or into independent schools. This is what has happened in Britain and has resulted in a decrease in equity of outcomes for students.

I happen to be living in Oxford at present, home of one of highest ranking universities in the world (if you believe those rankings). In this rarified atmosphere, it is instructive to know that well over 40% of its undergraduates come from independent schools. That’s a disproportionate number, considering that only about 7% of British children attend them. This is the pinnacle of the inequity which infects the British education system, which starts with children living in poverty and compounds as they face not only hunger, poorer schools, competition from more privileged children who get extra tutoring and support at home, and then finally enormous university fees.

So much for the ideal that education can be a route out of poverty, that it is a mechanism for social mobility. As Britain started on its education reforms, the government said that was one of the goals – not only to “raise standards” but also to give every child an equal chance. As we saw in yesterday’s post, it has failed to do either. Part of their problem is that they chose to define excellence as what they could measure – test scores. When Finland set out to reform its education system, it made a conscious effort to make it more equitable, and the excellence followed; everyone benefited.

Canada still ranks very highly internationally in equity when it comes to education; doing well in school here is not as dependent on what strata of society one comes from as it is in many more unequal countries. I believe this is a Canadian ideal, and we can be very proud of how well we have done. So here’s the question, given that the second foundational principle of the Glaze report is “Equity and Excellence”, why does it recommend implementing reforms that will make us more like Britain and the US, two of the most unequal countries in the world, and will have the effect of increasing inequity in our education system?  Why, when it is well known that poverty is such a contributor to poor results in school, is it mentioned only 3 times in the whole report, with no recommendations aimed at alleviating it?

Something to think about over the weekend!


Meanwhile, university lecturers all over this country have gone on strike over their pension plans which the government wants to decimate. I’m glad to see the students support them!

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Molly Hurd’s perspectives on education have been developed out of her wide variety of teaching experiences in northern Quebec, rural Nova Scotia, Nigeria, Tanzania and Britain. She was also a teacher and head teacher at Halifax Independent School for twenty years. She believes passionately that keeping children’s natural love of learning alive throughout their school years is one of the very best things a school can do for its students. She is the author of “Best School in the World: How students, teachers and parents have created a model that can transform Canada’s public schools” published by Formac Publishing in 2017.

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