By Glen Argan
Excellence in education is part of our Catholic tradition. The Catholic Church launched the first universities, and many religious orders, beginning with the Jesuits, made the provision of primary and secondary education major parts of their apostolates.
Where would the Western world be without the Church’s commitment to academic excellence? We don’t know, of course, but it is hard to believe that our intellectual and technological progress would have reached the same high level without the Catholic contribution to education.
It’s unfortunate the membership of religious orders has declined so significantly over the last 60 years. We are now into an era where the state has increasing control over the curriculum and administration of education. There is no sense in bemoaning this reality; it will be with us for a long time, and we need to make the best of it.
Alberta and Ontario are known for having the most effective education systems in Canada, perhaps even the world. Such judgments are based on our good results on standardized tests. Alberta and Ontario also have publicly-funded Catholic school systems. Competition leads to better results for everyone.
As a parent, I believed it was essential for my children to gain basic skills in math, reading and writing, especially in the primary grades. Once those years have passed, it is difficult to backtrack and help those children who have not gained those skills.
Abstract concepts should be taught once the child has mastered basic skills and has reached a higher level of intellectual maturity. The problem is that students do not reach intellectual maturity at the same time. Individualized teaching would be ideal, but classroom teachers already have too much on their plate.
Standardized testing, especially in those early years, can be helpful so educators can identify problems with children’s learning and attempt to remedy those problems before they become too great.
The problem with standardized tests is that they focus on skills necessary to succeed in university. Of course, not all people are tooled in that direction, and if the curriculum isn’t geared toward their unique abilities, it becomes easy for a student to lose confidence as well as losing interest in school.
I was one who did well on academic tests, but if I had been asked in high school to build a simple birdhouse, I would have been out to sea.
Schools have gone a long away over the decades to meeting the needs of students with varying types of abilities. They are doing much better at meeting the needs of all students.
I believe Catholic schools can continue to do well in meeting the needs of all students. Academically gifted students can get an education that meets their aspirations; those with gifts in other areas can also achieve success.
The role of the board of trustees is to provide support. Support does not mean meddling in the running of classrooms. Rather, it means developing a clear understanding of the range of student needs, eliminating inefficiencies so our limited dollars can provide the best education for as many students as possible.
Trustees are not called to be educational experts; their call is to be bridge-builders, listeners and leaders. Beware of candidates who use their one mouth more than their two ears. Educational excellence will be enhanced when trustees work in harmony and listen more than they talk.
(Glen Argan is a candidate for the Edmonton Catholic school board in Ward 75.)