Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Ontario Education Minister Liz Sandals



Honourable Liz Sandals
Minister of Education
Ontario Ministry of Education

This is a paraphrase summary, not direct quotes (though often quoted words are used). Sorry about spelling mistakes. Not an official transcript, but just me typing as she spoke. All errors are mine (especially spelling errors).

(Ministry of Ontario vision video)

What we all have in common is that we're committed to the well-being of our students

About a year ago our government began renewing the vision of education in Ontario schools. We had a range of stakeholders outside the system, a lot of students involved, but there was a high degree of consensus. So the Achieving Excellence has four major objectives:
- achieving excellence
- ensuring equity
- promoting well-being
- competence

We've also been partnering with the Council of Directors of Educations (CODE - 'superintendants') - this boosts what we know about technology and enabling innovations.

The challenge now is how do we take those innovations and fiund those things that are working best and spread them not just to lead schools, but all across the system and in every school and in every board - the challenge is to get the great innovations more generally in use. Need a sustainable transformation that's relevant and meets local needs.

We certainly know that we need to learn from our stakeholders.

We also know that we need to work more closely with businesses, with rsearch institutions, agencies - there are many relationships out there, often local relationships, we need to draw from to enhance what we're doing with technology. When we were talking to students, we heard the students really want to participate in experiential learning. They want to feel connected to the real world. How do we build on this?

So, there's going to be lots of exploration. Some things will be directive - we continue to work on math, for example. We've appointed four advisors who will be helping to guide us. They will review emerging trends and research. They will work on incorporating research into making our vision a reality.

When we look at education, it isn't really just about education. We're also looking at the future of the economy. They will be key to our future prosperity. We are competing with the rest of the world based on the skills and the knowledge of our workers.

So, one thing we've been able to do over the last 4 years is to increase our high school graduation rate - it's up to 83% since 2013 (but I want to say a few things about how we calculate that - we assigned an Ontario education number to every student in schools, and it follows them through the system - we are literatlly looking at who comes into the door and where they are 5 years later - if they move to Alberta they are shown as not having graduated, if they enter a high needs program, they are shown as not having graduated.) From 68%.

We created the child care modernization act - they have to give the students a number when they enter child care. That means we can track kids from the time they nter a licensed care system all the way through to university in Ontario.So we can find how their PSE experiences relate to their elementary and secondary experiences.

One reason we were able to raise the HS grad rate is that we introduced more ways students could access experiential learning. If they have co-op experience, they get a red seal on their diploma if they graduate from specialist high schools labour - includes mining, ICT, manufacturing, etc. These programs are very community-oriented. This is a great example of experiential learning.

Not everyone can participate in this. So another way of doing this is to bring tech into the classroom, so they can get real-world experience in the classroom. We haven't thought though this as carefully as we have the outward-bound experiences. In this case, we're often supporting students who are otherwise struggling.

One of the things we've done recently is to create a $150M tech fund over 3 years, to invest in tablets, software, cameras, etc., and also training, so we don't just acquire hardware and apps.  But we know that these new techs are engaging studemnts in new ways, partocularly when we partner with the right learning task. We also find these technologies are giving students with special needs a new voice, and to connect with their teachers and classmates.

So, we see this huge growth in technology. I was at the College of Business and Economic in Guelph, talking about entrepreneurship. One cluster of students were trying to start a business, a board that you can play around with to help you create new technology to support science learning in a variety of different applications. I said, it's great you have these ideas, connect it to the curriculum and you can sell it to teachers and librarians.

We've also got partnerships with TVO and KFO and their website, which has programming that follows the curriculum. Have a look at what they are creating. It's always connected to curriculum so you don't have to worry about whether it's appropriate. Eg. homework help line.

When we talk to parents and students, they want 21st century learning - critical skills, collaboration skills, communication skills. When we look at their future, we know they won't geet a job with the plant that sets them for life - we know many of them will have to start their own businesses. We depend on technology to expand students' view of the worlld and an independent critical thinking mindset.

Another of our goals is well-being. As we get involbved in technology we want to ensure our students are ethical and socially-responsible citizens. We have to talk about safe and ethical internet use.

A couple of things going on in boards around the province:

- a board in Keewatin using Skype to communicate with students in remote communities in other parts of the world.
- in Belleville - Saganaska demonstration school - use sims to solve problems and learn scientific skills, like heat transfer

Q: UK - coding in curriculum; hour of code in US - is Ontario looking at coding?
A: my background is math and computer science, so this is a hot button with me. Mostly when we talk about tech we talk about how to use tech that someone else created. We don't talk about coding in the first place. A problem is we don't have enough teachers qualified to teach computer science, especially in small high schools. When we look at students who go into STEM, there's a drop off. I'm not sure the solution is to do an hour of code. But we need to pay attention to STEM students. Especially women.

Q: Ontario student ID - anything at the federal level that would integrate information exchange between the provinces? At the Canadian level?
A: Education in Canada is a provincial responsibilities. So we have CMEC - Council of Ministers of Education in Canada. I'm not aware of any such discussion around tracking. The discussion is more around common curriculum initiatives. Talked about aboriginal education, international students - nothing on the bookkeeping techie sort of thing.

Q: 21st century skills - when might the ministry provision boards of education with new measures so we can assess students on these?
A: there's an active discussion going on right now about that - how do we measure communication, collaboration, critical thinking? Teachers often comment, but it's usually a personal opinion thing. I don't know when we'll have an answer.

Q: ed tech startup entrepreneurship in education. Do you see innovation hubs emerging in K12 - are you looking to encourage this?
A: I mentikned high skills majors, one is focused on this. It's not as widely offered as the others. I think it will evolve and I think it will grow. I was at Guelph - youth job strategy, a lot went to match students with first job, but there was some money set aside for innovation. In Guelph I was announcing a grant to the business school doing this.

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