Increasing opportunities for success for Yukon students

Re The next great leap forward, Yukon News editorial: In Richard Mostyn's editorial, The next great leap forward, he raises the important point that the Yukon education system, and the broader over

Re The next great leap forward, Yukon News editorial:

In Richard Mostyn’s editorial, The next great leap forward, he raises the important point that the Yukon education system, and the broader overall education system, have a responsibility to foster creativity and not simply train our students in the basics of literacy, math and science.

The Yukon Department of Education agrees, and has been actively implementing programming that supports this philosophy.

In April, we unveiled a draft of our strategic plan, a plan which is based on the shared vision and priorities of our partners in education. The draft strategic plan is available for download and comments at www.education.gov.yk.ca.

In the draft of our strategic plan, we have outlined our commitment to breaking down boundaries that separate us, and to growing new relationships on a foundation that honours the learning needs of each student.

One of the four public school objectives that we have outlined in the plan is our dedication to the 21st-century learner and the importance of critical thinking and analytical skills.

We have evolved beyond the industrial model of education, with its roots in the late 19th century, under which children were seen as raw products to be shaped and fashioned according to specification.

Now, in addition to recognizing the value of the three Rs of reading, writing and arithmetic, we also focus our education on the four Cs – critical thinking, creativity, communication and collaboration.

Our movement toward focusing on 21st-century learning aligns well with what Sir Ken Robinson, who is quoted in Mostyn’s editorial, endorses and advocates.

We recognize that the old education system, which emphasized embedded facts in the minds of our learners, is decreasingly relevant in a world where facts are only a mouse click away.

Today’s students need to learn how to find what they need to know, when they need to know it – they need higher-order thinking skills to analyze and evaluate the usefulness and accuracy of the information they find. They need to be able to consider the perspectives of others.

Today we are proud of our creative classrooms where learning is for all.

The Department of Education believes in the concept that literacy is foundational to all learning and that 21st-century learning competencies are necessary to ensure that students become true lifelong learners.

We use technology as a tool integrated across the curriculum to support the various literacies our students need and to help them become active, engaged and successful global citizens.

Our draft strategic plan also features our objective to increase the engagement of parents, families, communities, and Yukon First Nations to improve student achievement and success.

Education goes beyond the four walls of the classroom, and by engaging those in the sphere of influence surrounding the learner, we strengthen the education that they receive.

One type of initiative that will support increasing engagement is the experiential education programs, which provide practical, hands-on experience as part of the learning process.

Experiential education programs in Yukon schools include: Achievement, Challenge, Environment, Services (ACES); Music, Art and Drama (MAD); Science and Socials Experiential (SASE); Experiential Science (ES); Outdoor Pursuits Experiential Science (OPES); Vanier Catholic Secondary School’s Outdoor Education; Experiential Science programs and “Sled Ed” experiential program; St. Elias Community School’s Outdoor Pursuits Program; Academie Parhelie, and the Old Crow experiential program.

The Department of Education has also supported training to provide educators with the knowledge and skills to embed experiential techniques and ideas in the curriculum.

In January 2011, we will implement a Whitehorse-based experiential program with a First Nation perspective that will be open to all Yukon students.

To assist in our emphasis in experiential education, we have also recently hired a new experiential education consultant.

Through Skills Canada Yukon, we have many Skills clubs in our schools that help our students get experience in hands-on, real-world settings in areas like culinary arts, cabinet making, TV/video production and 2D animation. Some of our students even get the chance to compete in their skills trades nationally, like those who were part of a 23-member contingent that won six medals at the National Skills Competition last month. It is one example of how we are placing the focus on learning in context.

Another example is Innovators in the Schools, which arranges bridge-building competitions and science fairs to promote hands-on learning in the schools.

Through our draft strategic plan, we also have an objective to promote a positive, inclusive and responsive learning environment that integrates and supports languages and cultures, and develops and strengthens the social and emotional skills of each learner.

Another objective found in the draft strategic plan is to develop and deliver relevant curriculum learning outcomes that are reflective and responsive to our Yukon learners, cultures and languages.

We recognize there will always be challenges to face in the education system and in helping students attain success.

The Department of Education is working to minimize challenges and to help students reach their unique potential by using creative programming and supporting the whole student in the social, emotional and academic realms.

With regard to the figures to which Mostyn referred in his editorial, it may help to put some context into the raw statistics.

Currently grad rates are calculated by estimates based on averages. The ideal system would identify what happens to every student in our system. It would let us know whether they graduate, move out of the territory, whether they drop out, or whether they are taking longer to complete their graduation requirements. No jurisdictions have created a system like this yet, but some are very close.

Whereas graduation rates are important, transition rates are even more important because they will tell us when and why we are losing students. If we can find this out, if we can identify whether students leave because the systems aren’t meeting their needs, whether they are leaving because they need to work, whether they’re leaving because of personal problems or because they don’t value education, this is the information we need to best serve Yukon students. Setting out a means to collect this type of information and make it useful is a challenge we are committed to addressing with our partners in education, and it will take time.

This summer, the Yukon bureau of statistics will be conducting a high school exit survey of students who were enrolled in Grade 8 in 2004.

The results from the exit survey will provide educators, parents and communities with a portrait of students who have left high school, and can assist in the advancement of suitable education, skills development and training programs.

The Department of Education is working hard to celebrate, encourage and nurture creativity in the classroom.

Key shifts are being made through core program and service delivery.

We are moving in the right direction, and are actively seeking public input into our draft strategic plan.

We are supporting our students in 21st-century learning, where their tremendous talents can be recognized and fostered.

The Yukon education system is responsible for turning educational vision into reality by building upon the strengths of our current system while ensuring it is responsive to the needs of our individual learners, our communities, our languages, our cultures, our histories and the demands of the ever-changing world we live in.

Patrick Rouble

Minister of Education

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