Canada is the only G8 country that does not have a Ministry of Education at a Federal level. We have Health Canada for issues related to our health. We have the Department of National Defence for our protection. But for education, we do not have such a federally regulated system. Elementary and secondary education in Canada is a provincial responsibility and each province is responsible for its own curriculum and method of assessing K-12 students.
This creates inconsistencies in our school systems. On one hand we have Alberta, where the amount of material covered and the frequency of testing is higher than some other provinces. I completed grades 7-12 in Alberta schools where midterms and final exams in all of the core subjects – math, chemistry, physics, biology, English, and social studies are mandatory. Grade 12 students in Alberta must write mandatory diploma exams in all the core subjects and these exams are worth 50% of their entire grade. Imagine being sick with the flu or stressed because your parents got into a fight on your exam day! A lot of kids have lost their admission offers from universities because of one poor test mark.
On the other hand we have BC schools with less material covered in the curriculum, and less midterms, final and provincial exams. On top of that, some teachers are more generous towards re-tests and extra credits than others.
Our education system does not allow for a consistent and accurate comparison between two students unless those students go to the exact same school and have the exact same teachers.
In 2012 UBC introduced their new broad-based admissions process. In addition to high school grades, applicants are required to submit supplemental material description experiences outside of their academics. Andre Arida, UBC’s director of undergraduate admissions explained to Ubyssey that high numbers of applicants, competition and grade inflation pushed the university to look for alternative ways of measuring an applicant’s preparedness: “Hopefully, in the long run, we get students who are more likely to be engaged on campus”.
The Ministry of Education in some provinces are currently undergoing curricula re-design and placing more emphasis on collaboration, engagement, and creativity. With this change, consolidation of curricula, harmonization of assessments, and equal standard of education across the country becomes even more important since placing grades on ‘creativity’ or ‘engagement’ is subjective.
A true consistency and fairness among all students ensure that all students are assessed based on the exact same curriculum and assessment criteria in all school districts in all provinces across Canada. It is only then that we can accurately compare the grades of a student to one that has a different teacher, or is in a different school or province.
As for what parents can do to ensure their kids succeed in higher education is to be active in their learning and/or seek supplemental services to ensure that their children are appropriately prepared for life after high school. About 14 per cent of first-year university students drop out, according to the Persistence in Post-Secondary Education Canada report that analyzed data from Statistics Canada Youth in Transition Survey. The overall post-secondary drop out rate, however, was about 16 per cent, suggesting that those who are going to drop out, do so early on due lack of preparation for the workload in university. With this in mind, the goal for high school students should not be to merely score high grades to gain acceptance into the university or college of their choice. It is equally important that students who wish to seek higher education are trained to be disciplined learners who perform well under pressure and are comfortable being challenged and tested.
Mehrnaz Bassiri, M.Sc.
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