School District 20 community members brainstorm on educational futures

Adapting education to meet technology’s demands inspired the board of education to seek community input on how to transition to a more personalized, relevant and engaging system of education.

The world has changed dramatically as burgeoning technologies and social networking radically alter the way kids learn. Textbooks, blackboards, pens and pencils are all but obsolete, especially when one considers that some Grade 2 students can text 60 words per minute and all educational information and resources are readily accessible on an iPad.

About 100 people including students, parents, school principals, trustees, employers, RCMP and civic leaders engaged in a three-hour Learning for Tomorrow workshop last week at Selkirk College to ponder the possibilities.

While the Kootenay Columbia Teachers Union opted out of the process, it was still an educational and exciting meeting, said trustee Toni Driutti.

“There was a buzz in the room, I wished I could have joined other tables to hear their discussions, too.”

The meeting began with an informative video by education academic Sir Ken Robinson. “Changing Paradigms” focused on public education and how the current system is still mired in a “production-line mentality” that hasn’t changed since the Industrial Revolution.

Attendees then broke into groups to address three key questions: how best to prepare students to become contributing members of the community, to describe conditions that made for a powerful learning experience, and how learning should change and schools be organized to deliver an education that ensures students are well prepared for the future.

“Personally speaking, it was very constructive,” said board chair Gordon Smith. “Everyone came away with a positive sense that the evening was a success.”

A principal facilitated and recorded the discussion for each group with each topic given 20 minutes. The students that attended were distributed throughout the tables and became the subject-matter “experts” for many of the adults.

“The young kids came to us with fantastic ideas,” and were active contributors to each group, said Driutti.

The 21st century learning paradigm was the focus of much conversation as groups looked at ways to integrate technology and social media into classrooms and how to transition to a more personalized system of education. Generally speaking, it incorporates technology into classrooms and has students learn at their own pace with teachers acting as facilitators.

But critics of the process suggest that 21st century learning is an attempt to increase class sizes and turn teachers into facilitators, leaving open questions of accountability.

Driutti recognizes these concerns, suggesting there was still a lot of work to do before the board fully embraces and implements the concept.

“We need teachers to progress . . . the consultation process is very important.”

And it was the process that made for constructive and provocative input, as opposed to an open-mike gymnasium meeting where the board is often met with the same people asking the same questions.

“We’re trying to get to a different place and this is all part of the Planning for the Future process that we revised in December that caused some consternation among a few individuals,” said Smith. “We’re trying to get a constructive format going.”

Workshop summaries will be placed online at the School District 20 website in hopes that interested individuals will view the information to see what types of discussion to expect at the public consultation meetings on March 1, 2, and 3 in Castlegar, Rossland and Trail.

The district will synthesize the information gathered in the table discussions combined with individual responses and post it to www.sd20.bc.ca/learning-for-tomorrow.html