Education is considered to be the most important element in determining the development of an individual for life within society. In Ontario, education is divided into four parts: Early Childhood, Primary (Elementary), Secondary, and Post-Secondary (Tertiary). The Province requires that children of residents and students attend elementary and secondary school until the age of 18. While it is generally believed that the Ontario educational system is producing world class students or, at minimum, individual with basic literacy and critical analytical skills, the fact is that the opposite is true. There is no doubt that Ontario can still boast about producing some of the best minds and academics, there is growing trend of student entering and exiting Ontario secondary and post-secondary institutions who do not have proper reading and/or writing skills, and the proper skills to critically analyze information. While a little blame could be place on Ontario’s educational institutions and its teaching staff, much, if not all of the blame must be placed on advancements in technology and the sudden growth and explosion of social networking site and the Internet in general. Observers of this new generation of secondary and post-secondary students, such as teachers, professors and teaching assistants, are noting that a growing number of these student have shorter attention spans resulting in a growing number of individual developing learning disabilities, especially in the development of proper reading and writing skills, and the skill to critically analyze information.
While the Internet and all its perks are to blame for the lacklustre bunch of students Ontario is now producing, it is impossible to remove it from society or dismantle it completely and it is now an integral part of our daily lives and essential for communication with the world. What Ontario needs to do is find new, solid, and sustainable solutions to this growing academic epidemic.
For the past decade or so, successive Provincial governments under Premiers Harris, Eves, and McGuinty have all seemingly placed literacy as a priority in secondary school through the introduction, implementation, and endorsement of the Education Quality and Accountability Office’s (EQAO) Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test (OSSLT). The OSSLT is a compulsory standardized test written by Ontario Grade 10 students. EQAO’s OSSLT 2004-2005 Report states that the OSSLT “is a quality assurance measure that shows the extent to which Ontario students are meeting the minimum literacy standard expected by the end of Grade 9. The test assesses the reading and writing skills students are expected to have learned across all subjects as outlined in The Ontario Curriculum”. While examination and tests, including standardized testing, are good tools in determining where students are academically, it is dangerous to say that these standardized tests actually reflect the skill level of most of these students, especially in the areas of literacy, critical thinking and critical analysis of information. The trouble with standardized testing is that schools and teachers, with varying degrees, begin to teach what is needed to pass the test while not necessarily teaching students proper literacy skills and the skill to critically analyze information. Many critics of standardized testing, especially those against the OSSLT, have stated that the OSSLT is only a band-aid solution and is meant only to stir up public confidence in Ontario’s educational system. As standardized testing is clearly a band-aid solution, the Ontario Secondary School Exit Exam proposed by Ontario Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak also goes out the window.
What needs to happen is the implementation of real solutions:
- Scrap the OSSLT and replace it with a compulsory literacy and critical analysis of information course.
- Bar students enrolled full-time in public secondary schools from enrolling in private educational institutions for the sole purpose of gaining credits for compulsory course available in the public system (essentially this scheme is a “pay-and-get-your-grades”, popular with a certain group of students), unless they wish to leave the public system completely.