Chasm between high school and university

Filename:       Chasm between high school and university
                          708 words
Date:                20 Jan 16
By:                    Frank Gue B.Sc. MBA, P.Eng., Burlington
                          905 634 9538
For:                  The Spec, Hamilton ON         
Re:                    “The chasm between high school and university”,
                          Jan. 18 Spec
Education for failure
Columnist Ken Durkacz accurately identifies reasons for “the chasm between high school and university”, Spec. Jan. 18.  Unfortunately for our students, parents, employers, and other stakeholders, this invisible “chasm” from Grade 1 onward suddenly becomes visible – and, tragically, mostly irreversible – when students try to cross it to enter university.
This is because the Ontario public school system leans heavily on  “Constructivist” teaching.  Constructivism has been widely adopted, without research-based evidence of its effectiveness, and now dominates our system.
Reading the Ontario curricula, one begins to wonder whether their developers set about perversely to guarantee that our students will fail their subjects; because despite decades of authoritative debunking, Ontario clings grimly to this long-discredited method of teaching.  Only one of many such debunks, from the Educational Psychologist, 2006, is quoted below:
“Why Minimal Guidance During Instruction Does Not
Work: An Analysis of the Failure of Constructivist,
Discovery, Problem-Based, Experiential, and
Inquiry-Based Teaching
Paul A. Kirschner
Educational Technology Expertise Center
Open University of the Netherlands
Research Centre Learning in Interaction
Utrecht University, The Netherlands
John Sweller
School of Education
University of New South Wales
Richard E. Clark
Rossier School of Education
University of Southern California”
“Evidence for the superiority of guided instruction is explained in the context of our knowledge of human cognitive architecture, expert–novice differences, and cognitive load.”
– following which is a long and authoritative article in support of the above headline statement.  To summarize: Ontario’s teaching methods don’t work.
“Guided instruction” is traditional teaching, in which the teacher teaches and the students learn.  Perhaps you think this is what your kids are getting.  Well, they’re not, save for those lucky enough to have the benefit of the dedicated labours of some teachers who still use the traditional methods despite the diktats of the Ministry of Education, the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (IOSE), and the teachers colleges.
Inquiry Based Learning, or Constructivism, or one of the several other names by which “Progressive” education is known, expects students themselves to identify, study, and master each of their subjects.  The teacher is no longer “the sage on the stage”, but merely a coach or helper.  Many folk* cannot bring themselves to believe that; but there is, unfortunately, plenty of evidence to support it.  We might  note a few – only a very few – pieces of this evidence spanning English, math, and science:  
*  Two University professor, on-air on the CBC, were heard to begin sentences with, “Me and him was … “
*  Clerks in stores, some of which sell technical goods like radio parts, may not be willing even to try to count, say, 75 cents lying on the counter.  One comment: “I’ll take your word for it.  Math never was my best subject.”  (Math?  Counting 75 cents is math?).
*  A science student was assigned to design and build a working model of a highly technical apparatus.  (As a Professional Engineer, owning  several thick textbooks on his subject, and having built many such models, I hold my head in horror.)  This teacher not only didn’t know, he didn’t know he didn’t know.
This last, about science, is particularly tragic.  A student undertaking such an assignment will assume the teacher knows what he is doing; that therefore he (the student) should be able to do it; and that, because he cannot do it, he must be stupid.
In a long career I’ve been both a teacher and a student, sometimes both at the same time, and have seen the scholastic abilities of my College and University intake students deteriorate year by year.  I have also had occasion to study Ontario public school curricula in depth.  This study (during which amazement gradually developed into anger) enables me to say authoritatively that no one, operating entirely from these or similar curricula, could master any subject, where to “master” means to get a correct answer to a problem and express it in coherent English such that the bridge does not fall down (or buckle in its first cold snap as one did recently here).
And so Mr. Durkacz’s correctly identified “gap” does indeed exist, is getting wider, and needs to be addressed by the Ontario public school system 12 years earlier than at University entrance.

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