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What We Would Change About Education in Canada

Posted: 06/27/2013 7:57 am

Leading up to Canada Day, the Huffington Post blog team asked prominent Canadians what they would change about one aspect of our country. We are publishing their answers in our series "What I'd Change About Canada" leading up to July 1. You can find the full series here.

We ask a lot of our schools. Teach our children to read and write. Convince them that Pythagorean's Theorem will factor greatly into their adult lives. And while you're at it, teach them intangible things: compassion, social responsibility and altruism.

It's possible.

Some provincial curricula are making great strides with community service requirements or ethics classes. But there's still something missing from our education system. Service learning integrates offsite volunteer work into the curriculum, providing context to the students' service work with corresponding lessons about social issues. This is what we would change about Canada: Compulsory volunteer hours as part of a holistic service learning model -- in every classroom in the country.

Ontario high school students log 40 volunteer hours in order to graduate. In Manitoba, students can serve the community for credit as part of a student initiated project, if they choose. In Alberta, civic engagement through community service is encouraged, but not officially required, as an enhanced learning opportunity. These are all important steps. We'd take it one step further.

Formal instruction should help students learn the root causes of whatever social deficit their volunteer hours help fill. Just like a field trip to the science centre accompanies an actual science class, stocking shelves at the food bank will be an enhanced experience when students learn about hunger; that global food production is sufficient to feed the global population; how local hunger differs from world hunger.

We know there are critics of ministry-ordered community service. It's true that mandatory volunteerism is an oxymoron. But in every other aspect of formal education, students are told what to do -- when to eat, what to wear, not to chew gum in class -- community service is the least arbitrary of these rules.

Studies prove that children who "learn" to serve tend to do better both academically and socially.

As it turns out, being "volun-told" doesn't detract from the experience, according to at least one report. A survey of Ontario's first high school cohort of mandatory volunteers post graduation found that participants were introduced to the volunteer sector when they may not have been otherwise. The mandated component had no negative impacts on their attitudes toward volunteering.

A compulsory experience doesn't have to be an empty experience. But we do agree that if students don't understand the purpose, they won't act with purpose, and that's where holistic service learning comes in. Young people are inherently idealistic. Add knowledge and a structured environment to their arsenal of ideals, and they'll be motivated to make a difference.

We've seen it happen.

Southridge School in Surrey, B.C., regularly embarks on volunteer field trips. Service -- local and global -- is one of their educational pillars, built into the broad vision and the classroom initiatives. And, every student logs at least 30 volunteer hours, every senior year (many exceed those hours). Developing long-term relationships with the communities served is strongly encouraged so that each student is part of the school's legacy.

This shouldn't be an experiment; it should be the norm. Every school should be granted funding and the resources needed to adapt their own service-learning model.

Let's celebrate Canada by encouraging young people to serve our nation's communities.

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  • Rosie Maclennan

    I want to change sport in this country to make it more accessible to our kids. I see too many Canadian kids not able to participate in sport; not afforded the chance to be a part of a team, be active or learn new skills. One of the biggest barriers is due to the rising costs of participating in sport.

  • Rose Reisman

    We have to take responsibility and understand our own triggers for eating these foods and why we continue to put them into our shopping carts. We have to read labels more carefully and understand the guidelines for a healthy diet, so we won't get lured into these traps. This is not impossible.

  • Danko Jones

    When I was asked to write about what I would change in Canada, I hemmed and hawed and scratched my head in total bemusement. I finally hyper-focussed on the fact that, although Canada boasts the longest coastline as the second largest country with ninth highest standard of living in the world, it also contains the highest amount of shitty drivers.

  • Noah Richler

    If I were able, I would change the map. There are a few options here, but for any of these we'd no longer be sitting on top of the United States and, as we are constantly told is the case, we'd not see ourselves as huddled along the border -- crouching almost.

  • Alyson Schafer

    This was a no-brainer for me because my whole life's work is dedicated to making ONE change to Canada. It's my mission statement: "To make parent education as acceptable and accessible as pre-natal classes." Taking a parenting class is responsible parenting. Isn't it a shame there is a stigma for improving one's self?

  • Richard Florida

    Though this might have a counterintuitive ring, Canada's mayors -- the people who are directly responsible for Canada's cities and the most accountable to their citizens -- should have the power to make decisions about local needs and infrastructure, and the ability to raise the money they need to carry out their plans.

  • Vikram Vij

    Since I came to Canada in 1989, it's been very important to me to spread the word of Indian cuisine to as many people as possible. I think it is gaining momentum, but attitudes towards ethnic food, and the boundaries around the way it is presented, still need to evolve.

  • Jully Black

    If I was handed a magic wand, I would erase all of the unsaid fear that a lot of the executives at radio stations, record companies, corporate brands, television and print media outlets have in promoting and celebrating our domestic R&B soul singers. I would urge them to passionately and freely support the artists of this genre in ways that are equal to the artists of other genres.

  • Karen Kain

    If I could change one thing about Canada, it would be to place a greater emphasis on the study and practice of arts education at every level. There is a widespread presumption that schools nowadays must focus almost exclusively on science, technology, engineering and mathematics if students are to be properly prepared to face the future.

  • Scott Vrooman

    Why does Canada still retain any connection to monarchy? In all of our recent indignation over the totally predicable abuse of power by unelected, unaccountable senators, we've overlooked an even sillier layer of law-making: royal assent.

  • Craig and Marc Kielburger

    This is what we would change about Canada: Compulsory volunteer hours as part of a holistic service learning model -- in every classroom in the country. Formal instruction should help students learn the root causes of whatever social deficit their volunteer hours help fill. Every school should be granted funding and the resources needed to adapt their own service-learning model.

  • Rose Reisman

    We have to take responsibility and understand our own triggers for eating these foods and why we continue to put them into our shopping carts. We have to read labels more carefully and understand the guidelines for a healthy diet, so we won't get lured into these traps. This is not impossible.

  • Robert Cohen

    Is being Canadian just some sort of patriotic "feeling"? Is it some intangible country specific pride? I set out to change what non-Canadians thought of us but it turned out I didn't know myself. Figuring it out has become a personal quest.

  • Jenn Grant

    Do you know how many beautiful indigenous children there are, right now, living under the poverty line in Canada? Half of all status First Nations children are living in poverty and that number goes up to more than 60% in Saskatchewan and Manitoba. For M├ętis, non-status and Inuit children the number living in poverty is still shockingly high at 27%.

  • Rick Hansen

    My goal has always been to build an even greater awareness of our need to move from a view that accessibility is just about getting in and out of buildings to a view of intentionally designing and creating fully inclusive communities, so that people with disabilities can fully participate.

 
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