Insights for system change
We know that for long term success, today’s students need more than the 3Rs. Our publicly funded schools are the best place to ensure that all students, no matter what their beginnings or their post-secondary destinations, get the skills they need for future success.
Over the past five years, we have been working with partners from universities, foundations, and government, as well as education stakeholders from across Canada, to understand how to define, support, assess, and embed a broader set of skills and competencies into our publicly funded education system.
Our work has led to five key insights:
1) Beyond the 3R’s: Competencies that matter
Through reviews of international policy and research, we have identified five domains that support student success both in school and in life: creativity, citizenship, health, social-emotional learning, and quality learning environments.
Working with experts from across Canada, we have defined a menu of concrete, teachable competencies and skills in these domains, and identified the learning conditions that support student growth in these areas.
2) Defining what matters: A common lexicon to support learning
The K-12, post-secondary, and employment sectors all acknowledge the importance of skills and competencies such as critical thinking, persistence, well-being, problem-solving, collaboration, resilience, and innovation. There are many frameworks, classifications, and lexicons to describe these competencies, but the lack of consistent language across policies and programs can create challenges for educators.
A common language helps to make complex areas of learning concrete, and supports classroom planning, communication, and collaboration among teachers. It enables students to better articulate their learning, and facilitates reporting to parents and the public.
3) Assessment and measurement: Beyond testing
Assessment is a core component of education. It informs teachers’ practice, helps students and parents understand their learning, and supports policy-makers in their decision-making.
Competencies in creativity, social-emotional learning, citizenship, and health should be assessed for the same reasons that reading and math are assessed – to provide information about student learning in these areas. However, assessment of these competencies is complex, and may require different assessment tools than those typically used to assess other skills and knowledge.
4) Quality learning environments: Creating conditions for learning
The conditions of a classroom or school – the operating environment of the school – influence both academic achievement and students’ development of competencies in creativity, social-emotional learning, citizenship, and health. Teachers also benefit from a learning environment that supports risk-taking, experimentation, and exploration of different pedagogic approaches.
There are clear links between learning conditions and competency development. Students need opportunities to practice and receive feedback in these areas; educators need the freedom to “try things out” and follow their professional hunches; and the system needs to provide the time and resources to support teacher collaboration and team-based planning and assessment.
5) Equity: Developing competencies, changing trajectories
In order to be successful in school and beyond, students need competencies in creativity, social-emotional learning, citizenship, and health. However, when children enter school, there is a “competency gap” between students from high- and low- socio-economic status backgrounds in a number of these areas. By embedding the teaching and learning of these vital competencies in our schools, we can improve the long-term outcomes for all students.