When I started a petition in mid-December to call Alberta Minister of Education Jeff Johnson to task for the breakdown of our children's math education, little did I know I was stepping into the bowels of a formidable giant. I was naive to have assumed that when harm is done to our children, these governing bodies would move swiftly to rectify the situation.
But here we are, over 9300 signatures later, six months before the new school year, petitions erupting from B.C. to Ontario, and what does Alberta do? Instead of making concessions to reform the math curriculum, the province has declared that it is investing tens of millions more to complete a radical transformation of our schools that puts discovery-based learning at its centre. This, in the shadows of falling PISA, TIMSS, and Fraser Institute scores, would beg the question of who the ministry's primary stakeholders are? Not our children, it seems.
"We're preparing [students] for a future we can't imagine, and giving them the tools to succeed in work that doesn't yet exist," government ads exalt of this "21st Century Learning" movement where teachers become "partners in learning" and students "self-directed learners."
To the naive and perhaps, gullible, "21st Century Learning" and its radical, discovery-based, technologically-dependent premise is enticing for this bold promise to "prepare children for the future, not our past." But as UAlberta's Douglas A Craig, Professor Emeritus at the university, has told me, "ours is the generation that put humans on the moon, devices on other planets and a space craft out into interstellar space – all with standard rote learning of mathematical material."
One need only look around at the present world to appreciate the beauty of mathematics applied to everyday life. It is through human ingenuity, creativity, and resourcefulness in individuals equipped with the tools from traditional teaching methods – teacher-guided, knowledge-based, memory work – of "the past" that is propelling society into the 21st century.
There have been many moments in this campaign when I have felt discouraged, frustrated, and even thought what a bumbling fool I have been, for who am I but a mother with no great authority over anything. Is it a distracting and futile fight, as they say?When I look to my children, I am reminded that this fight is not just between a parent and the system, but rather it is our fight for our children's basic right to a good education.
I am indeed only a mother from a small town, but as a medical doctor, I have also held dying children in my arms in impoverished nations. I have been humbled to be in the presence of children who have walked barefooted the countless miles just to get to school. I have been graced by the tenacity of mothers and fathers who have sacrificed everything so that their children can go to school. And I am inspired by individuals like Malala Yousafzai who was shot just because of her courage to go to school.
It is, therefore, a great injustice not only to our children, but to all children around the world when the bureaucrats here, in this land of opportunities, are squandering our children's right to a good education in their attempt to appear innovative even as they break down the valuable roles of a teacher and the school in our children's education.
A teacher – an honourable title unmatched by any other profession – is a child's mentor. We look to teachers to teach, to guide and to empower our children with knowledge and skills.
At the end of the day, a school should be a place that nurtures, reinforces and strengthens our children's basic fundamental skills. When a school does not meet these goals, the system has failed and no amount of innovation speak can hide that fact.
Dr. Nhung Tran-Davies is a physician and author in Calmar, Alta. Her petition to Alberta's Ministry of Education asking for changes to how math is taught has gathered 1,500 signatures.