Educational reform needs nuance, not simplification

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There’s no magic fix for public education, nor is pinning hopes on one helpful.

Ingrid Bergman, writer of an opinion piece in The Huffington Post Canada, says Ontario could take a page out of Finland’s book  — the Finnish educational system reportedly focuses “on learning rather than performance” and “the idea that less is more.” Ontario’s elementary schools, she says, could see a rise in its quality of education for everyone, including “the disadvantaged,” if only they shifted to smaller class sizes.

But educational reform isn’t that simple.

The Guardian article referenced by the writer about Finland’s educational success is a lot more multifaceted and a lot less clear-cut than Bergman makes it out to be.

Ontario can’t emulate Finland in the same way. It’s important to remember the nuances of Finland and their particular system which places a different cultural value on teaching and learning. Huge changes in institutions aren’t so easily transferable, especially since Ontario’s financial state may not lend itself to a huge overhaul.

Bergman’s point that “smaller classes would benefit the disadvantaged” also inadvertently oversimplifies the complexity of each of these disadvantages.

Students with learning disabilities and students who’re ethnic minorities are both historically disadvantaged groups, but they each have their nuances — it’s wishful thinking that cutting down on class size is going to solve both of their issues. For instance, one student may require more specialized equipment, whereas perhaps the other requires a shift in curriculum. Either solution is unrelated to class size.

While it may alleviate some stress, smaller class sizes aren’t going to solve gaps in education for certain student groups. The change might even be less relevant at a university level, where students have a better handle on their learning styles and preferences and can choose their classes accordingly.

Shifting to smaller class sizes has its benefits. But a belief that this change would alleviate many problems is an often-made oversimplification that one structural change can make all the problems of public education simply disappear.  

That’s not to say educational reform for Ontario’s public schools isn’t needed — it’s a conversation worth having.

But shifting a classical model of education is a big feat that often leaves vulnerable students hanging. It requires precision and detail, not lofty goals and unfounded parallels.

— Journal Editorial Board 

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