When addressing the challenges facing our education system, a variety of voices are needed to produce practical, scalable solutions that work in most classrooms. We can’t be too removed from the practical essentials, nor should we lose sight of the bigger vision.
Last week, The Waterloo Global Science Initiative (WGSI) hosted The Equinox Summit on Education in Waterloo, Ont. WGSI, a partnership between The University of Waterloo and The Perimeter Institute, intended The Equinox Summit to be the culmination of a year long discussion about the future of education which had been hosted and produced by TVO under the banner “Learning 2030.”
The Equinox Summit’s goal was to produce “...clear recommendations on building a learning environment that fosters critical thinking, problem solving, and innovation” for the world’s students of 2030. 2030 is the year that students born in 2013 should graduate from high school.
Working sessions, held in camera, were on in the daytime, while the evening was devoted to public plenaries.
As I followed the discussion and tweets from attendees on social media, I realized there was a voice I was not hearing: that of teachers. At first, I thought that I must be mistaken. A legitimate summit on global education would ensure that teachers were an integral part of the discussion. Surprisingly, The Equinox Summit didn’t.
Forty people are listed as “participants” in the “working sessions” of The Equinox Summit. They included 14 students, 14 entrepreneurs, 7 university academics and 2 journalists – but only one principal and one teacher. The lone teacher, Michael Maccarone, is a science teacher at an exclusive private school in New York City. A single private school teacher can’t effectively represent the opinions of the world’s teachers.
For me, a public school teacher, the exclusion of a representative voice for teachers brings the findings and purpose of The Equinox Summit into question. The summit was supported by public institutions (The University of Waterloo and TVO are partners) and independent international rankings rate Ontario’s education system as one of the best in the world. Wouldn’t the expertise of Ontario’s teachers, or those from other provinces, have helped the summit? Why weren’t they represented?
When I asked WGSI General Manager Julie Wright, she explained that in putting together the list of invitees they sought to “build a group that is multigenerational, multinational and multidisciplinary.” “We consulted stakeholders from across Canada and around the world during the research and invitation phases of this project.” Part of the consultation process involved teachers from the public, Catholic and private school contexts in Ontario as well as from other provinces in Canada.
The “working sessions” of the summit were held in private, behind locked doors and away from the public. They were conducted under “Chatham House Rules,” which means that the public can’t know who said what, even though there were journalists present. Anyone who’s read postings in online forums knows that ensuring anonymity for the speaker isn’t an effective way to promote civil, responsible dialogue. The issues discussed at The Equinox Forum are of critical importance to the public, and to make progress we need “experts” who are willing to take responsibility, to stand behind their ideas and to engage in dialogue.
At the end of the summit a communiqué was released which summarizes the participants’ collective findings. I don’t disagree with the content of the communique. In fact, I think they’re notable for being unremarkable. They read like a summary of the things progressive educators discuss at conferences and on social media every weekend.
The communiqué calls for cross-disciplinary and collaborative approaches to learning, something The Ontario Ministry of Education already requires teachers to provide through the Early Learning Kindergarten curriculum and the recently released Social Studies curriculum. If Ontario teachers had been invited to participate, they might have been able to alert participants that this isn’t a vision for global Learning 2030, but the reality of education in Ontario in 2013.
The irony of the communiqué is saved for the final recommendation which states: “Teachers play a crucial role in learning: that of a caring, interested mentor and role model. Each student meets regularly with a teacher/mentor to discuss the student’s goals and the educational trajectory that is most likely to achieve them, and to monitor the student’s progress.”
We won’t change education with closed door meetings or exclusive summits, but rather through inclusive dialogue to build a committed coalition. By valuing the views of all education stakeholders we can engage them in helping to change education and better prepare students for their future. To quote Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
Andrew Campbell is a teacher at Major Ballachey Public School in Brantford, Ont., an educator for over 20 years and the father of three sons.