There seems to be some anger that school boards across Alberta have decided to talk to big business during the Redesigning Curriculum initiative recently undertaken by Alberta Education. Some of those critics distrust big business, especially oil companies.
Alberta Education has indicated that companies like Cenovus Energy, Suncor Energy, Stantec, PCL Industrial Contractors and Syncrude Canada have been recruited to "help draft Alberta’s future curriculum for our students."
NDP education critic Deron Bilous called the move "appalling" and Greenpeace activist Mike Hudema told reporters, "What’s good for the oil industry isn’t what’s good for the rest of Alberta and especially not our children."
Whatever the reasons for the distrust, we should not be afraid to invite business leaders into our school redesign process. Business leaders hire our graduates. They know what skills their employees need. Our schools are, and should be, more than factories that produce workers. But let’s face it: we want our children to thrive, be happy and move out of the basement. Having the job skills employers want helps make these things happen.
A range of stakeholders should have a say in how our children are educated. Parents offer input through their interaction with teachers and school boards; older students make choices within the schools that they attend; citizens have a say through their the ballot box; and experts in curriculum design and education are consulted as a matter of course.
Others with expertise in what kinds of jobs are and will be available, and the skills that are and will be needed to do them, should also be part the process. Education is important for many reasons, but surely one is that it leads to gainful employment.
Indeed, what use is an education system if it does not adequately prepare its graduates? If the people who design the curriculum and teach it are to make good decisions about what is required to thrive in the future, they need to be talking to the people who understand the kinds of work that will be available in it. This goes beyond large businesses to include entrepreneurs, small businesses or all kinds of arts and cultural groups, environmental organizations and many others.
Anyone who went to school a generation ago will understand how far we have come from those education systems in which a student’s head was opened, the curriculum was poured in, and success depended upon the amount the learner could regurgitate.
This industrial model of education served the industrial age well. But it’s not working so well now.
While students in an earlier education system might have managed to learn the multiplication tables, what they didn’t necessarily learn was how to think critically, discern which source was the most reliable, be creative or work well with others of diverse cultures and backgrounds. All these skills are absolutely necessary in Canada’s 21st Century economy.
School systems have been struggling to cope with increasingly demanding curriculum – children in elementary school learn science that used to be at taught the post-secondary level - and at the same time increased demands in the form of skills and attributes that go far beyond knowing facts.
In striving to meet these increased demands, provincial governments have been seeking ways to adapt their curricula. We need a system that, in the words Alberta’s "Inspiring Education" initiative, helps our children to become "engaged thinkers, ethical citizens and entrepreneurial spirits." These are attributes our children will need to thrive in the knowledge-based economy.
There are people who don’t vote in school board elections because they don’t have children in school; others understand that the future of our society depends on our education system and who governs and make decisions regarding our schools is a concern for us all.
Everyone has a stake in education. Business has every business in the classroom, as do parents, civil society agencies and arts and cultural organizations. If we want our society to thrive, our children must learn much earlier about the world they are entering into.
If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a whole society, business included, to prepare them for success (and to make sure they have a job so they can move out of basement before they turn
Janet Lane is the director of human capital policy at the Canada West Foundation, which exclusively focuses on policies that shape the quality of life in western Canada. www.cwf.ca.