Royal Commission on Learning Report: Short Version

Royal Commission on Learning

Our key recommendations

With this context in mind, we had to decide how serious reform of the system could actually happen. Students have changed, teachers have changed, families have changed, technology has changed, and society has changed in a dozen different ways; how is it possible not to wonder whether the very heart and soul of schools must change accordingly?

We regretfully concluded that the many dozens of discrete ideas that we heard in our public consultations - whether suggestions to teach international understanding, use more phonics, add math and science courses, give parents a greater role in running schools, and so on - would not be nearly sufficient to turn the vast educational enterprise around, whatever their individual merits. Piecemeal solutions to isolated problems do not, in the end, add up to a coherent framework for reform. We learned that for every complex problem there is an easy, black-and-white solution, and it is often as not wrong. On the other hand, we've also avoided like the plague all those big ideas whose meaning has given rise to such misunderstanding that they've been rendered quite useless - restructuring, site-based management, child-centred learning, constructivism, and the like. Such terms confuse rather than clarify.

It is true that we have much of considerable importance to say about the traditional education issues: what students should learn, how we know whether they've learned, how to improve their performance, who should make these decisions. These were the issues the government of Ontario asked us to examine and report on, and we have done so at considerable length.

We believe it's absolutely essential that the progress of all students be monitored systematically and thoroughly from the very beginning of their school careers, with an eye to constant improvement both of the individual and the program. We believe the traditional basics do matter, that they must be learned by all kids at an early age, and be shown to have been learned. We believe the teaching of math and sciences needs serious updating. We believe smaller schools-within-schools make great sense. We believe every student should have a teacher who acts as a personal steward for several years in a row. We believe teachers and students should have more influence in how schools are run, and that parents must be welcomed by every school in the province and given thorough advice about how they can support their children's learning. All these matters are treated in detail in the volumes of our report, and we'll return to them briefly in this overview.

Yet when all was said and done, given the record of educational change around the world, we made the crucial decision that even major reforms in those conventional areas of education don't go far enough in shaking up the entire system. Since, in our analysis, the real crisis in education is caused by large-scale societal changes, it seemed vital to us that our recommendations be on the same scale and of the same power as these outside forces. We need to forge a new system that is challenging and rigorous and develops students who can think, create, analyze, reason, debate, synthesize, understand, communicate, learn and keep learning. To this end, we concluded that several carefully chosen key intervention strategies were necessary to accelerate the process of change and reform, to act as engines of transformation, driving the changes to traditional educational matters that we are also recommending.

After a great deal of analysis, it seemed to us that, in particular, four key strategic projects have the capability to change qualitatively the kind of schools, the kind of learning, and the kind of teaching that are at the heart of the education system:

  • an alliance between the school and its community to share the overall responsibility for raising our children and seeing to their best development;
  • early childhood education, to maximize the potential of schooling for all kids;
  • the professionalization and continuing development of teachers, the single most important key to any possible improvement in the quality of schooling; and
  • the use of computers and related technology to establish the relevance of formal schooling to the world outside of schools, and, with the help of teachers, to help young people learn to think in more creative, co-operative, sophisticated ways.

We're convinced that each of these four projects, by themselves and together, can so change the nature of the education enterprise that things will never be the same again. We devote a complete chapter to each of them in the main body of the report where we support this conviction, demonstrating how they work as engines to drive the momentum to large-scale reform. Here we can only summarize the main appeal of each of them.

The first engine: A new kind of school-community alliance

For some years, society has been dumping on our schools the responsibility to deal with whatever new problem or crisis has come along that can't easily be handled elsewhere. Then they are criticized for failing to educate our children properly. We are convinced that teachers - overwhelmed, overburdened, and ill prepared - can handle no more. Schools can't raise our children for us. They can't do everything by themselves. They can't cope with all the deficits that kids bring to school and with the turbulent, unpredictable times we live in, and at the same time fulfil their main purpose of graduating students with high levels of intellectual competence.

That's why one of our key conclusions is that the entire community must share with its schools the responsibility for raising our children, and for their overall development. During our hearings, we were reminded repeatedly of a saying, apparently African, that it takes an entire village to raise a child. We've come to believe that not only is this notion true, but it's also indispensable if schools in the future are to do their jobs properly. And that future has already begun.

In our vision, schools must no longer be isolated, self-contained institutions, doing their own thing. Instead, they must become part of a network of many local or regional organizations, all inter-connected, and all dealing with the whole reality of childhood. It seems to us to make sense that schools become the physical centre for this network. Teachers can't be expected to do the jobs of trained psychologists, but trained psychologists can come to schools. Teachers can't suddenly become experts in violence prevention, but cops can come to schools. Teachers can't be expected to be artists, scientists, computer techies, social workers, musicians, fitness specialists, but all those who are can come to schools. This is not more pie-in-the-sky; we've known of artists and fitness experts from outside the system who have offered to do exactly that. The Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto has offered to work on music programs with Metro Toronto schools. Of course this wouldn't be a great boon to northern Ontario students, but the point is that every community has its own particular special resources that can become part of this network.

This concept of how a community raises its children is not original to us by any means, although despite lots of individual examples we cite, it's never been carried very far in practice. But we give it such profile here because of our certainty - and we don't hesitate to repeat ourselves - that if things continue along the present path, teachers can't be expected to focus on their main responsibility of providing high-quality, high-level instruction. Schools are part of their communities, and the community includes its schools. Social agencies, community and religious organizations, local ministry offices, businesses and unions, and community colleges and universities all share the non-academic load that's been thrust on schools. With knowledge exploding before our eyes, it's ridiculous to expect schools to keep up with every kind of expertise without the aid of knowledgeable citizens in the community.

We explored several ways to implement this concept. We think every school should have a school-community council, led by the principal and comprising community residents, parents, teachers, and students, responsible for bringing appropriate community resources into the school to assume some of the obligations teachers now bear alone.

There must be a new kind of co-ordination at the local level of the many provincial government ministries and social service agencies that provide support services to children and their families. We call on the government at Queen's Park to ensure such co-ordination.

Everywhere in the province business people told us that schools must do better. Here's their chance to help that happen by offering family-friendly workplace policies, making it possible, for example, for employees to be able to visit their children's teachers during school hours.

Let's be frank about one of the implications of these recommendations. In the schools we envision, by no means would all educators be formally certified teachers and therefore members of one of the teachers' unions or federations. The fancy name for this is differentiated staffing, and we know full well that it's an idea that's met resistance at the union level in the past. We understand and are wholly sympathetic with the mandate of the unions to protect the legitimate job security and benefits of its members. But there's a principle even more overriding than this one: the interests of good teaching and good learning must always come first.

Most teacher union activists claim to believe in this principle, except when it seems to conflict with their union imperatives. But there's a contradiction in their position. Teachers came to us in droves to complain that they were impossibly overburdened. We say those burdens will only be lifted if they're shared by the entire community. We say that only through differential staffing can schools fulfil the multiplicity of responsibilities that are reluctantly theirs. It seems to us that the unions can't have it both ways. They can't complain of overload and then refuse to allow a solution to it. Shortly, we'll describe a series of steps to help teachers cope better in the classroom. But the first one is to relieve them of some of their non-academic duties so their main priority can be the one for which they entered the profession: to be excellent teachers. We can only hope that the unions co-operate for the sake of the students.

The second engine: Early childhood education

Our report should be seen as a strong endorsement of the potential of universal public education. We see education as a public good in which all should share. And we believe that contact with the formal schooling system could profitably begin even sooner than it does. We have been impressed by a substantial amount of persuasive research that suggests that if kids began school a year earlier - at three years, instead of junior kindergarten at four, and full-time instead of half-time - their future educational development would be positively affected. But since we know that some parents will be reluctant to send their children to school at that age, we recommend that although all boards should make these facilities available, attendance would be optional.

Good research has increasingly demonstrated that long before any child arrives at school, much learning has already taken place; just ask any parent. But the nature of that learning varies greatly; just ask any teacher. The kids who enter our schools for the first time often arrive from vastly different worlds of experience - worlds that profoundly affect their ability to learn in both positive and negative ways. They are raised in diverse family settings and nurtured by parents who, in most cases, are both breadwinners. They come from families where education is important and from families with little interest in education, from families where language and its use is part of the air children breathe to families struggling to break the shackles of illiteracy. It's our strong conviction that it's neither just nor reasonable to leave these crucial early educational influences to chance.

Yet another major phenomenon pushed us towards embracing early childhood education programs. If present trends continue, our children will in all too many cases bring to school with them the trauma of dysfunctional families wounded by poverty, unemployment, and often addiction. In May 1994, while we were in the midst of our deliberations, a report from the Metro Toronto Social Planning Council set in stark terms the extent of the poverty problem: "Not since the depression of the 1930s have so many young families been at such risk of economic insecurity..." We have known for years that children from poor families bring to school a host of difficulties that substantially interfere with their learning. Schools cannot solve the problem of poverty. But if they have the will, they have the capacity to minimize the consequences of poverty on learning and to decrease the other emotional baggage that burdens so many of today's children.

We're convinced that early childhood education significantly helps in providing a level playing field of opportunity and experience for every child, whatever her background.

According to the evidence we've seen - and it's all set out in detail in Chapter 7 of the report - children who come through a carefully planned process of early education gain significantly in competence, coping skills, and (not least important) in positive attitudes towards learning. Excellent education enhances their understanding of the value of formal learning while it seems to expand teachers' expectations of children's capacities. Most observers agree that teachers' expectations of their students are very nearly a self-fulfilling prophecy, so anything that demonstrates to teachers that they can realistically hold high expectations for all their students is to be devoutly desired.

Earlier schooling also has some important lessons for parents. It teaches them that individual attention paid to their kids by teachers is an invaluable asset, and creates an expectation that such personal involvement will remain a hallmark of schooling throughout their children's education. Of course this is not the case now. But it should be. Early education is an excellent place for such personal involvement to begin, and we have suggestions to make it happen.

There's also an abundance of research showing that parents' interest in their children's schooling is a powerful tool in kids' academic success; this is a major finding with enormous potential for better learning. If teachers make parents feel comfortable about their children's schooling at this initial stage, it could well set the stage for on-going involvement. Of course there are many kids with only one parent and a few with none at all, and although that could mean they find little home interest in their school lives, for them there are, at least, compensating factors in early education. In fact, what's so exciting for us is that recent research demonstrates that both disadvantaged and advantaged kids benefit from high quality early schooling.

An earlier start means greater and more equal school readiness for children at age 6, when they get to Grade 1. Put another way, it removes barriers to learning at the earliest possible stage. That means a stronger start at basic literacy and numeracy, which we warmly applaud, and the prospect of building on that head start throughout the rest of their school years. There is heartening evidence as well that if young children with apparent learning disabilities receive proper educational attention early on, a significant number of them will avoid becoming special education students.

As you'll see, we build deliberately on the concept of school readiness by recommending more systematic and effective attention to early literacy in Grades 1 and 2, and a standard test of basic literacy for all students in Grade 3. As a result, we believe schools will be able to offer a virtual guarantee of basic literacy for every student by the end of Grade 3. In our curriculum for literacies, we show how to build on this foundation to the point that it's not unrealistic to hope that the 14-year-old learner a decade from now might well have the knowledge and skills of today's 15- or 16-year-old, and that far fewer remedial and special education programs would be needed.

The third engine: Teachers

Teachers are our heroes. We believe they should be everyone's heroes. Anyone who has watched a teacher begin a day facing a group of kids who'd rather be anywhere in the world than sitting in that classroom learning about something called geometry that they couldn't care less about understands only too well what a frustrating, thankless, enervating task these mortal women and men face so much of their working lives. In return, they feel unappreciated, disrespected, the focus of twisted media attacks, caught in an almost war-like situation not of their making. It's hardly an accident that so many teachers love talking about themselves as the front-line troops of the education system, the ones that are in the trenches each and every day. Is this a happy metaphor for schooling?

Yet just about all of us remember with love and gratitude those special teachers we encountered along the way who influenced our lives so greatly. They're still out there, the naturals, the born teachers, accomplishing miracles. We've seen teachers whose Grade 2 kids were writing real essays and happily learning about correct spelling, grammar and syntax in the process. We know of seven- and eight-year-olds who, under the guidance of a remarkable teacher, are having the times of their lives performing adaptations of Shakespeare, and gaining a lifelong love of the classics. We saw with our own eyes a group of young teenage boys - "hormone hoppers" to their savvy teacher - so engrossed in a computer project they were doing together that they ignored the lunch bell. We know there are teachers who bring alive to young women and men across Ontario the history of Lower Canada, the intricacies of calculus, the mysteries of space. We've learned of teachers who have saved kids in trouble from doing terrible damage to their lives, and who have spent time and energy persuading them to stay in school. We know of teachers who have given themselves to other troubled kids and ended up with heartache and frustration; that too is part of the reality.

It would be too good to be true to expect all teachers to be devoted, dedicated, and brilliant at their work. In fact, as their students told us in no uncertain terms, there are teachers who are uncommunicative, unresponsive, indifferent, mechanical, inflexible, and responsible to no one; some, they explained in a nice phrase, were retired on the job. We know all this from first-hand experience. How many teachers fall into these categories? Not many, yet too many. If we may borrow a phrase, one is too many. There is no excuse for bad teachers, and they shouldn't be permitted to work in our schools. For every student who falls through the cracks, a principal or teacher must be responsible. We hope the teachers' unions are able to share the singular priority of the right of our students to the best possible teaching - a right, frankly, that must always take priority over an inadequate teacher's right to permanent job security.

But as in all matters human, the large majority of teachers are neither exceptional nor hopeless. Most teachers say they enter the profession out of their concern for kids, and we believe it's true. From what we've observed and learned, we're confident that most Ontario teachers are competent, caring, and committed; that they work conscientiously and hard; and that day in and day out, they do a good job. In fact, given the constant pressure they operate under, the seriousness of their responsibilities, the never-ending new obligations society foists on them and the never-ending new changes that boards or the Ministry impose on them, the anxiety about keeping up with their subject and with good practices that result from the explosion of knowledge both in their disciplines and in teaching methods - given all this, even the ordinary teacher seems heroic to us.

Transforming schools, as we insistently repeat, ultimately depends on teachers. No significant improvements are likely to take place without the active participation of teachers and other educators who actually create and sustain the conditions for learning in schools. All the educational policy changes and curriculum documents in the world will have little or no effect unless teachers use them in the classroom. All the system-wide testing will have no effect either, unless teachers use the data to improve and refine their programs and teaching methods. It's because of this indispensable role that we identified teacher development as one of our four engines of change. If educators increase their capacity for creating positive change in classrooms, working together to improve programs for all students, we have every reason to expect significant improvement in student learning.

But at this moment teachers are hardly equipped for this role, if indeed they believe in it. Neither are they equipped with the skills and knowledge to cope effectively with the strange new world in which they find themselves. We spent a great deal of time examining this problem, and we dedicate a substantial amount of our report to elaborating quite fully on our views. You'll see that Chapter 6 is called "What Is Teaching?," while we devote an entire volume, which we call The Educators, to a comprehensive review of what teachers, department heads, principals, and supervisory officers need to know to do their jobs effectively, and how they can best learn it.

What we have in mind is not exactly teacher education or training; continuing professional development is perhaps more precise. It is no easy thing to equip someone to take on the duties of today's teacher. Look at the significant changes in the demographic composition of the student body, and the impact of family poverty and children's emotional problems. Society has determined that children with special needs are to be increasingly integrated into regular classrooms. We already noted the changing economic and social contexts of education, and the increased curricular demands. With these dramatic changes, and all the many others we've referred to so far, it's obvious that teaching techniques from the past, supposing they were ever adequate, are no longer good enough for new and more challenging school contexts.

Neither are they remotely good enough for meeting new and more ambitious learning goals. Helping children master basic reading and writing skills is a critical first step, and every teacher of young children must be proficient at it. But it's not enough; the basics are simply the beginning of a long adventure in increasingly complex learning. Students must also learn to solve new problems, to think, to reason, and to apply their learning in a variety of contexts that are as yet unknown. If students must learn these, teachers must know how to teach them.

Teachers are, of necessity, at the forefront - maybe we should say the front line - of any and all curricular and organizational changes in schools. In 1993-94 alone, for instance, on top of all their other responsibilities, teachers were dealing with the new common curriculum, and also, for the first time, teaching destreamed Grade 9 classes that include all ability and achievement levels. It takes professional commitment and real expertise to handle all these roles and assignments, which is why the proper preparation and support of this expert teaching force is critical. It is obvious to many, including us, that strengthened and more substantial preparation is absolutely necessary for teachers before they take on full responsibility for their own classrooms. But at least as important, however, are two other changes that are too frequently overlooked: first, a shift in the conditions of teachers' work and of their professional lives; and second, a more serious commitment to ongoing professional development of every teacher and principal in the entire system, both formal and informal.

We are by no means the first to note that few schools yet provide the kinds of working and learning environments that support such high-quality professional teaching; the image of the teacher, isolated behind the closed classroom door, has become close to a stereotype. It's only when teachers are continually learning and thinking about how to improve their practice that collectively they can create the optimal conditions for students' learning. We know this is easy to say for outsiders, who don't have to face the harsh realities of the daily school grind. But the goal is important enough that we must at least try to approach it.

What are we recommending? In general, our suggestions involve teachers having greater autonomy, but also greater accountability - or more responsibility, but also better support. What does this mean in practice? First, it seems to us that it is an insult to the job of teacher to believe it can be learned in one academic year at a university faculty of education, with perhaps five months of formal instruction and four months of practice teaching, as is presently the case. What may be most remarkable about the present school system is how many teachers cope so well with such limited preparation. But it's time to stop pushing our luck.

We believe that the pre-service preparation program be lengthened to two years following the first undergraduate degree, and that schools and faculties of education both take responsibility for teaching aspiring teachers what they need to learn. Although (as we will explain in a moment) we leave it to specialists in the field to specify the content or format of this program, we do recommend a rigorous process for accrediting teacher preparation programs. Student teachers need longer blocks of time working in schools, but just as important, they need assistance in thinking critically about their work in schools, so that they can do more than merely replicate what they see. Like a pendulum, there's a movement away from the present practice - spending too much time in the faculties and not enough in actual classrooms - to the opposite extreme - trivializing formal instruction in the philosophy of education and pedagogical methodologies, and emphasizing classroom experience instead. In our view, this is one of those areas where a thoughtful balance between the two is clearly the sensible route to take.

There's a problem here, however. A look at the number of teachers suggests caution about relying primarily on pre-service teacher education as the instrument of renewal. There are more than 120,000 teachers in Ontario, but only some 3,000 new ones are hired each year, suggesting that depending on beginning teachers to renew the profession would be a very long, very slow process indeed. As well, there are limits to what can be accomplished in a pre-service program. In the long term, it is more important that teachers continue to develop throughout their careers. The issue is how to foster, if not ensure, such continual improvement, which cannot flourish unless time and resources are committed to it.

We became convinced that on-going professional learning must become part and parcel of a teaching career. It seems impossible to do the job effectively otherwise. We feel so strongly about this that we are recommending that participation in professional development be mandatory for all educators, and that continuing certification be contingent on such participation.

As we see it, PD, as it's universally known, should be woven into the life of schools as much as possible, rather than grafted on as something artificial that must be done. In other words, the ideal professional development is teachers working together to plan programs, discuss teaching methods, puzzle over how best to teach hard-to-reach students, assess the strengths and weaknesses of their wards, elicit parental views, develop tools to assess student learning, and improve their reporting to parents. As they work on these issues, teachers will go to workshops, draw on experts, discuss with each other, reflect on their own experiences, and experiment with their new knowledge.

Our views here reflect our confidence in the professionalism of the teaching profession. And we take this position to its logical conclusion. Our conviction is that teaching should be a self-governing profession, with greater responsibility and greater autonomy for teachers. Our recommendation is that teachers would collectively, through a College of Teachers, set the standards for entry into teaching, maintain a register of those licensed to teach in Ontario, and determine the criteria for accrediting (or recognizing) teacher education programs, whether that means pre-service preparation or the on-going professional development for practising teachers which we described a moment ago.

While the membership of the college must include representatives of the public, presumably appointed by the government, a majority of the members would be teachers, directly elected by all certified teachers in the province. It's crucial to our plan that no one interest group has control of the college, and that all members put aside their own particular perspectives in the service of maintaining the highest professional standards. In the decisions about structure and membership of the college, it must be clear that the College of Teachers will be completely separate from and independent of the teachers' federations, whose functions, although occasionally overlapping, are in fact quite distinct.

Every aspect of the education system needs to be monitored regularly. That includes teachers. Evaluation of the performance of teachers and other educators in the system has several purposes. Performance should be monitored to ensure that standards are kept up and staff is performing satisfactorily. This is part and parcel of being accountable. Perhaps even more important is assessing performance, and giving feedback, so people can continue to get better at what they do. Finally, schools must assess performance to identify and deal with staff members who, for whatever reason, are ineffective.

No one source of information offers definitive answers to how well someone is teaching. We need a variety of indicators, including observation and reporting by principals or vice-principals; measures of student learning, particularly progress over time; and feedback from students and parents. That's why we recommend that school boards develop fair and systematic ways of eliciting the views of students and parents about the learning climate of schools and classrooms, that information about performance appraisal systems be publicly accessible, and that principals and supervisory officers be accountable for following up and dealing with unsatisfactory teaching behaviour.

Teachers, principals, supervisory officers, and senior school-board administrators are key to implementing our other engines for change as well. If the community alliances we advocate actually happen, teachers will find that a substantial portion of their non-academic responsibilities are lifted, and they can focus on the intellectual development of all their students. Unless teachers are comfortable with electronic technology, and unless they develop the necessary skills, they won't be able to realize the potential of computers as teaching tools. Community alliances need the support of teachers and administrators, who in turn need to further develop their skills in working effectively with those beyond the school, and with volunteers and other professionals in the community. Early childhood education programs require well-prepared teachers able to work with children and their families to ensure that all children enter Grade 1 with a high chance of success. Put all these ingredients together, working towards the same exciting learning goals, and together we have a chance to fashion something new and dramatic in the world of learning.

The fourth engine: Information technology

Being on this Commission has been an almost unlimited learning experience for all of us, and perhaps the least expected discovery that we made concerns the remarkable potential that information technology - computers and related telecommunications in particular - has for revolutionizing teaching and learning in the most positive and exciting ways imaginable. We stress the word potential. Some of the largest corporate interests in North America are gearing up to computerize the continent's schools over the next few years. The only question is whether technology is in the saddle riding humankind, or whether we're capable of harnessing it in the most constructive way possible.

After a great deal of exploration and observation, we've actually come to believe that both students and teachers would be more receptive to the entire learning process if schools designed much of their classroom teaching and learning strategies around information technology - computers linked to a modem and telephone line or cable, CD-ROM players, and other devices. But as we've already said earlier, the new technology is not a substitute for teachers. On the contrary, its intelligent use depends on the guidance of thoroughly prepared teachers with the assistance of community specialists. Under these circumstances, we are convinced it?s capable of re-shaping the traditional nature of learning and teaching. While Chapter 13 sets out at considerable length the possibilities and the limits of the new technology, this section will spell out briefly the reasons for our enthusiasm and optimism, and the steps we believe necessary to avoid the real pitfalls ahead.

In the first place, as one ardent techie put it so well, "Technology stands out in our classrooms as a symbol to teachers, parents and students that schooling can and will change, that classrooms may have some bearing on the 21st century after all." Computers are the evidence that schools have some real connection to the outside world, that schools matter, that they're relevant, that they?re part of the whole reality of childhood. This is not a contribution to be scorned. In a world of Super Nintendos and kids who can set their families' VCR clocks, where half of all homes will soon have their own computers, it is only too easy for traditional schools to seem beside the point. That's what UNESCO means when it reports that "Teachers armed with chalk and a blackboard are no match for these powerful new media." Computer literacy is already the new basic, something some of us old-timers may still find breathtaking but that young people simply take for granted. Motivating students is a key to better learning; poorly motivated students, of whom our system has an abundance, are poor students. Information technology has the potential to be a major motivator.

Secondly, the new technologies, when used properly, have the capacity to offer the first qualitative change in the potential nature of learning since books evolved half a millennium ago and structured the education process since. From schools and school districts in Ontario that we have visited, as well as in other jurisdictions where significant experiments with information technology have been taking place, there has emerged an accumulation of credible reports that describe a transformation of the nature of learning for kids and instruction for teachers. Remarkably, similar language is used by all of them. We'll let several of them speak for themselves, because they go a long way towards explaining our enthusiasm.

"Significant change," according to one report on a high school project, was observed in the way students thought and worked. Comparing students in conventional schools with those in a carefully planned and structured information technology program, the greatest difference was found in the way the latter "organized for and accomplished their work. Routinely they employed inquiry, collaborative, technological and problem-solving skills uncommon to the graduates of traditional high school programs." At the same time, teachers "began teaming, working across disciplines, and modifying school schedules to accommodate ambitious class projects," while in elementary schools, "traditional recitation and seat work have been gradually balanced with inter-disciplinary, project-based instruction that integrates the same advanced technologies in use in high school."

These descriptions will seem wildly exaggerated to some of you. But we have seen for ourselves examples of exactly these phenomena in schools here in Ontario. The main report discusses them further.

Other findings also sound almost too good to be true. As a B.C. study concluded, "With the tools of technology, students can dramatically raise knowledge levels, learn problem-solving techniques, develop the skills required to manage massive amounts of information, analyze concepts from several different perspectives, and develop the hard-to-quantify higher-order analytic and critical thinking skills that are required in the global marketplace."

The evidence clearly suggests that every student, of both genders and all backgrounds, can benefit substantially from the new technology. "'Average' students grew as involved and interested as 'gifted' students," one experiment reported. Another teacher noted that using technology in her classes had led "All students, from gifted to special education, to take control of their learning." The Dutch experience indicated that "the computer will never replace the will change the role of the teacher to increase the time and attention that can be spent on groups of pupils who are often neglected at present exceptionally gifted and pupils who lag behind." That's largely because the technology allows for a far greater individualization of the teaching process than is now possible in the real world of large classrooms.

We see information technology not as threat to teachers, but as a multi-faceted new resource. Computers are not teachers; they're teacher aides. We agree with those who told us that "apart from funding, adequate teacher preparation is probably the most important determinant of the success" of information technology. A heartening number of Ontario teachers already are comfortable with computers, but many are not. Of course we don't expect a hundred thousand teachers suddenly to be transformed from techno-peasants to techno-pedagogues, but there's no reason why all of them can't learn to be modestly competent within the world of technology, provided that appropriate time and assistance are made available for proper preparation. With such in-service professional development, combined with adequate training during the two initial years of teacher education, we could realistically have a teaching force ready to exploit the great promise of information technology within a few years.

There are other valuable contributions that this technology can play. Using computers for assessing students' performance, as we show in Chapter 13, can give students more control over their own learning, teachers and parents more information on the quality of that learning, and even lead to more and better learning by students. It can help teachers create networks of collaboration and new models of professional development. And it can help parents access information about their children's schooling, like tonight's homework, via telephone or via computer and modem. All of this is spelled out at greater length in the main report.

There are cautions that must be noted. We take for granted that kids from less-advantaged homes are less likely to have home computers than those from better-off families. This is why it's so important that schools are able to compensate those who don't. As things stand now, children from higher socio-economic levels generally feel more comfortable in the school milieu than poorer kids. If the latter lacked computer literacy, on top of their other disadvantages, the school system would be even more unfair than it is now. There are also preliminary indications that girls appear to be less interested in the world of computer technology than boys; certainly the Internet is a largely male domain. Properly prepared teachers will be needed to ensure that girls don't cheat themselves of this invaluable learning opportunity.

There is a significant job of co-ordination that we call on the Ministry of Education and Training to play in the entire realm of information technology in our schools. We are also concerned about the availability of high-quality education software. While the technology behind software may be universal, we believe Canadian students still need content that is geared to and based on Canadian realities and culture. And naturally, the major problem is assuring that every school in the province is adequately supplied with both the hardware and software to make information technology a genuine learning tool. Frankly, we can't imagine this to be possible without some co-operative venture between governments and the business community.

The four engines: Summing up

We don't want to minimize or disguise the challenge we're delivering. If the education system of the future is to meet the great expectations that we, like everyone else, hold for it, these four strategic projects need to be in place. Together they constitute a set of dynamic and interlocking forces with the synergy to drive the reconstruction of the present system. While each is a powerful transformational force in its own right, interacting with each other powerfully expands the capacity of each to effect real change.

Children who don't have deeply motivated, caring, trained, experienced teachers are limited in what they can learn. Teachers whose students are not predisposed to learn, who don't embrace school from the beginning as a welcome part of their lives, are limited in what they can teach. Schools with strategies that ignore the new information technologies are limited in their ability to make knowledge accessible and themselves relevant and interesting to this generation of young people. And schools that aren't organically connected to the families, businesses, arts and music communities, and the health and social agencies around them are limited in their ability to cope with the needs of their students.

Information technology and teachers are mutually dependent. Information technology depends on the community if it is to materialize in all schools, and schools will need experts in the community to work with teachers in using it to its fullest capacity. If we're right that early childhood education builds on and formally fosters children's early development as learners, as well as predisposing them to the idea of learning, they'll be open to the challenge offered by teachers with high expectations of them. Teachers will welcome the relief of having community members share with them the non-academic burdens of their students, and joining with them in enhancing even the teaching of some academic subjects. And they will learn to understand that the best teaching aide any teacher can have is the student's family, and will come to act on the assumption that the family is an integral part of a student's school life.

We are not as unrealistic as some of these assertions must make us sound. We know perfectly well that what we're prescribing won't happen easily. We've spent a good deal of time learning about the complicated process of large-scale change. Each of our four engines is a complex, long-term project that must be introduced thoughtfully and systematically. Finding adequate funding is an issue we don't minimize, and we address it in the final chapter of our report on implementing our recommendations.

That's why we don't expect any of the engines to be implemented tomorrow. But there's no good reason why each can't begin tomorrow and that we can't get the change process rolling immediately. In fact significant initiatives can be taken without waiting for marching orders from the Ministry of Education and Training. Parents, teachers, principals, trustees and administrators, universities and faculties of eduction, and business people and community agencies could all begin their parts in the re-invention of Ontario schooling with little delay. Ironically, it's probably only the students who need permission to move ahead.

It seems to us that there exist a few overarching obstacles to a better learning system: alienated, distracted, passive youngsters; isolated, over-burdened, insufficiently prepared and insufficiently appreciated teachers; massive buildings that vividly reflect the way schools are cut off from both the big world outside their doors and the human communities around them. That's why we concluded that we needed some dramatic means to meet these obstacles head on before we could expect that our various ideas for changing the curriculum would matter very much. The four engines, we hope, are the blasting powder that the system needs to open itself to further change. What those changes ought to be we'll deal with next.

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