Bianca Ferrara: Teachers must take curriculum planning out of the hands of the government

In Quebec, we give long problem-solving and math activities to children who can barely read, write or decode information in the early grades.

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Imagine a curriculum that slowed down the pace of learning and rearranged our focus — an environment where children’s academic levels are respected and given room for improvement and mastery.

Imagine having time to focus on social skills and autonomy before rushing through a system meant to prepare kids for tests, not for life. In the 21st century, why do we emphasize good grades when humanity, during a pandemic, has taken a hit?

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I propose a new curriculum.

Teachers are constantly reflecting and learning. We attend workshops about new educational programs and teaching methods, constantly research ways to engage our students and keep them on task despite their different strengths and abilities. There is no shortage of information out there. Unfortunately, the world we live in today doesn’t allow such simple solutions.

It’s easy to find a cookie-cutter way of running your classroom. We are expected to teach them to read, write and compute math equations without a calculator, sift through problem-solving questions to pick out important information and apply their acquired knowledge, all while promoting citizenship and manners without using consequences or disciplinary methods like staying indoors to catch up or to solve a problem. Because of COVID-related school restrictions and shutdowns, many students haven’t mastered the foundations of reading, writing and math that they need to succeed.

A child who is behind and having trouble understanding is less likely to participate in class, may feel alienated or seek attention by acting out. We need to intervene. We need to take curriculum planning out of the hands of the government and let professionals who work in classrooms develop a program that caters to the whole child and is flexible enough to accommodate different needs.

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There are many education philosophies in use worldwide. Students in Japan focus only on social skills for the first two years of their education. This helps promote friendships, community and social skills, providing a sense of belonging. Behaviour issues and classroom conduct are addressed early and enforced moving forward. Each day, for 15 minutes, the students work together to clean their environment before returning home. They take accountability for their space, unlike many schools in Quebec, some of which look like they’ve been ransacked by the end of the day and are then left in the hands of the caretakers.

In my opinion, an educational program should look like this:

Smaller class sizes would allow teachers to observe and focus on each child’s needs. In Quebec, I have taught in kindergarten classrooms with 17 children — without the assistance of another adult. These children are four to five years old. Some of them cannot get dressed independently and are not fully autonomous. Teachers cannot effectively provide an education when most of their day is spent on damage control, ensuring the class is clean and organized and that lessons are planned. It is hard to establish a routine when you have so many tiny humans with diverse needs.

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Social, reading, writing, and basic math skills comprise the first two years of a student’s elementary education. Here, we would focus teaching on making friends, classroom behaviour, cleaning up after themselves and being autonomous throughout the day (tying shoelaces, dressing to go outdoors, using a pencil, scissors and other school materials correctly). I taught many of these skills in Grade 5 — doing it early avoids taking time away from learning to catch students up. We also ensure that every student has the tools they need to succeed.

In Quebec, we give long problem-solving and math activities to children who can barely read, write or decode information in the early grades. It is an absolute waste of time. We should teach letters and sounds, read stories and talk about what we’re reading to promote comprehension. We should teach how to properly hold a pencil to write and draw, promoting fine motor development. We should be teaching number sense. Adding, taking away, skip counting.

These skills can be taught during play and mastered before more challenging concepts arise.

Early intervention is key in the first few years of a child’s education. When we can identify where a child is struggling and where they excel, we can then create an adapted program to strengthen skills and build confidence.

The educational system in Quebec and Canada has disappointed many. We have seen children left unattended due to insufficient resources, funding and oversized classrooms.

Teachers’ needs must be heard and respected if they are going to effectively meet the needs of their students.

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