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Posts Tagged ‘high school’

There have always been various goals for education and a conversation about the very purpose of schooling is never simple. There has always been tension between the public and private good of education. We often hear arguments that education is about preparing students as citizens and also preparing students as the workforce of the future. While these two are often in conflict with each other they are both in the larger “public good” tent. In addition, there is the belief that education is more of a private goal – to help individuals compete with other individuals and improve their status. It is this third goal that I see, and worry, gets attention in our COVID high school experiences potentially at the expense of the other two.

Some try to turn education into a commodity.  Individuals collect credits for their own advancement.  It is this thinking that often leads to the growth in private schools or charter schools as the public good of education is set aside and education becomes about the individual.  For all its warts, public education has long been able to maintain a collective nature.  Whether one sees education through a  workforce preparation or citizen engagement lens they both lend themselves to a bettering of our world. The worry I have during COVID is that we could lose focus on these goals and education becomes far more individualistic – an every person for themselves feeling – that shifts us away from the public good to more of a private good for education.

The danger I see is that high schools become about the credential and not the experience.  And COVID can potentially accentuate this.  One effect of COVID on schooling is that school is being reorganized.  In British Columbia almost all high school students are completing two courses at a time, and then repeating this process four times over the year in a quarter-system.  Many more students than ever are also taking courses online through various providers around the province to supplement what they might be doing in their local school.  So, while this could be viewed as true personalization as students build their own programs it also leads one to think of schooling as just a collection of credits.  In this world, you collect courses and credits to earn credentials to compete with other students to earn spots in post-secondary.  And yes, there has always been a key element of the individual in the system, when we have to change how we teach and limit the extra curricular offerings it narrows the system. 

In the COVID world, there are limits on school sports, clubs and other events that promote collective power.  Yes, schools are doing Terry Fox Runs – but it is hard to argue that they have the same impact as in previous years. As we look ahead to Remembrance Day, that will again be a challenge.  And in the classroom, rather than robust group discussions and debates, we know more individual work is encouraged to limit contact between students.  It is the reality of the virus, but it promotes goals that are good for the individual, but not necessarily for the community.

I talked to one student who said, “This year is just about getting the credits done and moving on.”  Another high schooler described it to me as “like having an office job – I go in get it done and get out.”  Our collective challenge is to make it more than that for these student and all students.  And it is a challenge.  Not only are teachers instructing in new ways, using new tools in a new system we need to find new ways to ensure the community aspects of school are not lost.

And I also get the anxiety of students – they want to be sure they collect credits to graduate, maintain their options for post-secondary and just not generally face long-term education challenges because of COVID.  

But we don’t want this to be the new mindset – where schools become simply about credit and credential collection.   

It is so great to have our students back in schools.  We see many jurisdictions around the world who have not been able to do it.  It is crucial that we don’t get lulled into sacrificing the public good as we rethink teaching and learning in our system.  

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