What’s The Issue
Since 2005, students at the high school I teach at have participated in a three day, cross curricular PBL project we call Seminar. The original intent of the project was to have students work on developing “soft skills” which we believed were necessary for future success in post-secondary and the job world. We created the project based on the current (in 2005) thinking around constructivism and PBL. Over time, we have changed how the program is delivered and its overall objectives. In the past, the Grade 12 staff got together to come up with a question we wanted students to address. Now, we organize the students at the beginning of the school year and ask them: If there is one issue you could spend time researching and trying to solve, what would it be? Out of those initial discussions and responses, we create online discussion questions to solidify an issue based on the student response. In addition, we worked to align the three day project with the Alberta Education Inspiring Education format where we encourage students to be engaged, ethical citizens who possess an entrepreneurial spirit.
This year the topic the students chose is: What is the most significant issue facing High School Students in Alberta? Students were asked to identify an issue and make a case for this being a significant issue based on research and connections with their peers and experts. They were also asked to present a solution to this issue. The solution could be an education program or an awareness campaign or a combination of both. Groups identified a wide array of issues including drug and alcohol abuse, stress, pressure to attend university, fear of end of year exams, a lack of voice in their school, and lack of motivation.
While all of the presentations have merit and address issues our students feel passionate about, one stuck out to me. I have been very blessed to have had the opportunity to travel around the world with students, working on development projects. As such, I have been with my students as they witnessed abject poverty and worked in a small way to help. In all of these experiences we have noticed how much education is valued in the developing world. It is seen as a privilege to be able to attend a good school. Therefore, when one of the groups created the poster attached to this post and asked the question: “Thousands of children wish they could walk into a school like this…why don’t we?” I stopped to think.
These students recognize there are students all over the world who would jump at the opportunity to attend a safe and secure school such as theirs. Not only do they recognize this, they are asking a very difficult question in why they do not feel privileged to attend this school – or any other school. So, is this an issue with the student body, with the teachers, or with the system? This is what I am left to ponder and reflect upon. I am uncertain as to the answer. I could argue the students have so much privilege in their lives they come to expect the things they receive – call it a sense of entitlement. I could also argue that the teaching staff, while working very hard, does not do enough to tap into the interests and distinct needs of the student body. Finally, maybe the system needs to be changed to reflect the changing needs of our students.
What I have seen around the world is a desire to be educated and possess knowledge as this is seen as necessary to overcoming adversity. One motto in a school I worked at in Tanzania was: Knowledge is Freedom. Do my students believe this to be true? If not, why not? What’s the issue? Is knowledge truly freedom? In our modern, tech driven society does knowledge still mean freedom. I am very intrigued by the difference in how students in my school view education and how students in the Nkuu School in Tanzania view education. I guess this goes a bit further into questioning what it truly means to be educated. I have come to believe that being educated means a student possesses the capacity to access information, interpret the information they have and understand how it can be applied. They have the ability to make connections necessary to solve problems and work collaboratively with others. In addition, an educated student knows how to share the information they obtain in a variety of ways. That’s what I believe- but is it what our students believe? Is it what they need? Why don’t they want to walk through the doors when others would give up everything in order to take those steps. What’s the issue?
Thanks and have a great day,