Falling Behind

I’d like to address what I expect will be a very natural educational concern for Alberta’s parents and students, especially parents of very young children and Grade 12 students thinking about post-secondary.

I think a lot of parents and students are worrying about “falling behind”.

Everything’s changed!  The students have to learn in a new way, and the need for parents to assist their kids in the current circumstances many parents find themselves in, well, it’s a burden no educator would ever place on parents given any other option. Our parents rely on our teachers to teach and they make their incredible contributions to the world in other ways. It’s not fair to ask them of this at all.

This is why I’m so pleased Alberta educators have been given such reasonable guidelines with respect to learning expectations, given our present circumstances. The marching orders regarding the time students need to devote to learning represents a reasonable balance between the need to “cover” the curriculum and the ability of students to actually “learn” that curriculum given our present circumstances. Alberta school divisions need to design a new system that is practical for most students and their parents. We need the Goldilocks approach, not too hot and not too cold…it needs to be just right.

I can tell you for a fact that every teacher in this province will be hardwired to try and accomplish too much, at first. Parents will be hardwired to do the same, at first. Many will be overwhelmed, at first.

It may be a rough start, because traditional school teachers, are trained to expertly teach, but they do that in classrooms with kids in front of them. Teachers can’t word process, hyperlink, podcast, webcast, or Zoom every element of the art and craft of teaching like they would in their classrooms.  Teachers will begin using these technologies almost immediately, but the obvious challenge is students without access to a device and/or a reliable internet connection.

I can also tell you that our teachers are brilliant and will listen, adapt, and improve as they learn from both their students and their parents. The quality of education will improve month after month as our teachers use their expertise, passion, and compassion to adjust distance learning to parallel whatever circumstances they encounter. An increasing use of technology will assist as long as the person on the sending end, the teacher, is actively involved in planning, grading, and making day-to-day decisions about slowing down or speeding up.

Let me get back to my opening point. Everyone knows we can’t expect Alberta students to accomplish as much as they would have in their regular classrooms. The fear will be “falling behind”.

However, “behind” is a relative term. To be behind means someone needs to be in front of you. Who will be in front of the overwhelming majority of the students in the province of Alberta? Will it be other Canadian students? No. “Normal” education is shutting down nationally right now. Will it be American students? No. “Normal” education is shutting down in North America right now. Will it be students in other nations? No. “Normal” education is shutting down internationally right now.

So, for some perspective, I offer this. The entire world will lose four months or more of “normal” education due to this crisis. Teaching approaches, curriculums, and expectations will be naturally adjusted on a local, provincial, national, and international level, and we won’t even know it’s happening. Everyone involved with K-12 and post-secondary education will adjust to the new normal, and normal is not behind. 

Peace, Dr. Scott Morrison

Superintendent, Christ The Redeemer Catholic Schools