How are the ideas from Inspiring Education put into practice? Have any changes happened yet?
If you want to keep abreast of school changes in Alberta, this page from the Alberta Education website is worth a read. But if you’re looking for a succinct and clear report in layman’s terms of what exactly is happening, you won’t find it on the Alberta Ed webpage. As it is usually the case with official information, the Alberta Ed updates and reports are lengthy and formal, and their substance is buried in big words. Here is my attempt at unscrambling and summarizing the reports on the latest developments.
From what I see, as of this post, the changes envisioned by Inspiring Education are still being mulled over, strategized or at best prototyped. In other words, the transformation process is still young. The legal ground for change was laid out in the spring of 2013 when a new Education Act was passed in Alberta’s legislature, and a new Ministerial Order on Student Learning was signed. Whereas the Ministerial Order became law right away, the Education Act is still being scrutinized and used as a base for writing new regulations and policies needed to implement school changes. It is expected that the new Education Act will only come into full effect in September 2015.
An initiative being currently developed is the Provincial Dual Credit Strategy (PDCS), which is intended to offer high-school students the opportunity to gear their education more to their personal strengths and interests, and to facilitate students’ transition into future careers. How does it work? A student who completes successfully an approved dual-credit learning opportunity – for example, a training or apprenticeship program, or a post-secondary course – will earn both high-school and post-secondary credits. This is meant to personalize and add depth to learning.
Another opportunity to personalize education and to relieve it of outdated constraints comes in the form of the High-School Flexibility Program, which has become available to all high-schools in Alberta in September 2014 . This means that students who attend a high-school participating in the program can receive course credits even if they have not been present in the classroom for a full 25 hours of instruction per credit. As its name implies, the Flex Program aims to provide learners with more flexibility in how they meet their course objectives, while acknowledging that classroom instruction isn’t always the best way to learn.
Provincial exams are being revamped, too. Presently Alberta has four province-wide evaluations: the Provincial Achievement Testing (PAT) which takes place at the end of third, sixth, and ninth grades, and the Diploma Examination which concludes all major high-school courses. Currently all these evaluations are summative, i.e. they are designed to measure how much students have learned. This is about to change for grade 3, 6, and 9 students as PATs will be replaced with SLAs, or Student Learning Assessments. SLAs will be written at the beginning of the school year rather than at the end, and will be used formatively, that is to guide and inform the learning process. Diploma exams will keep their summative purpose but they will be accessible in a digital format to allow for more exam sessions than are available now. Additionally, all provincial exams are being revised and modified in such a way as to evaluate less the learning of content and more the acquisition of literacies, numeracies and cross-curricular competencies, which the redesigned provincial curriculum is intended to emphasize – see below.
To enable the upgrade of Alberta’s education environment to the digital age, which would allow learners to not just receive but also create new knowledge, a new Learning and Technology Policy Framework has been put forth. This document sets the tone for the new policies that are being written to encourage the use of new technologies in ways that maximize learning as envisioned by Inspiring Education.
And last but not least, the entire K-12 school curriculum is getting rebuilt. New programs of study and new resources for learning and evaluation are being created to emphasize literacy and numeracy skills, along with cross-curricular competencies identified as essential for an educated Albertan of year 2030. Because it is a major and complex undertaking with a critical role in bringing the ideas from Inspiring Education to life, the Curriculum Redesign process involves a wide spectrum of education stakeholders. The first step is the development of a Curriculum Prototype to which various partners – such as schools, colleges and universities, First Nations communities, businesses and industries – participate and collaborate closely. The prototyping process is currently underway and first drafts are expected as shown in this timeline.
What does a new curriculum prototype look like? An example and some details on new curriculum prototyping at work were made public at a recent Inspiring Education Symposium. In one of the presentations a new project-based curriculum called Career and Technology Foundations (CTF) was described, and it was announced that it will become available to schools in September 2014. How will CTF be a departure from business-as-usual in schools? The CTF program is designed to differ from present school programs in several ways, all aligned with the new trends meant to improve education. It will be:
- an elective program for grade 5-9 students – i.e. it will not be mandatory for students.
- a non-grade specific program – i.e. it will be available to anybody in grades 5-9.
- an inquiry/problem based program – i.e. it will engage the students in completing authentic projects/tasks.
- an individualized program – i.e. it will be flexible and tailored to the student’s personal interests and talents.
As you can tell, things are starting to move forward here in Alberta. Our education system is getting ready for a major and inevitable overhaul. Will it be a smooth ride? Most surely not! Is it imperative that it happens? You bet! After all, as John Dewey said, “Education is not a preparation for life; education is life itself.”