From the President

March 10, 2011
Carol Henderson
Carol Henderson
Early learning is Alberta’s cornerstone

If you’ve ever worked (or played) with young children, you have seen them learning through incidental, intentional or guided play, much of which is creative.

Early learning is essential to every student’s ongoing development. That is one reason I’ve tried to convince Ministry of Education officials to abolish provincial achievement tests (PATs), especially in Grade 3. The resources expended by the province on those tests would be far better spent on early learning programs. The bureaucrats, however, argue that Grade 3 achievement tests provide them with important data. They insist that they must have a process by which to measure. If they didn’t, how would they identify students at risk or students in danger of not completing high school? My response: just ask teachers—their information will be insightful and accurate.

In order to develop and nurture creativity and critical thinking, maybe we should have a kindergarten program centred on a play-based philosophy that emphasizes the importance of learning through play. Kindergarten students should not be tiny test-takers in training, nor should kindergarten’s activity-based philosophy change when students enter Grade 1. All elementary students should be exposed to experiential learning supported by manipulatives, hands-on activities and fieldtrips. To ensure student engagement, perhaps we should follow the advice of Daniel Pink, author of A Whole New Mind, and provide free play for 20 per cent of the school day in every grade level.

But it is not only play that encourages students to be creative; the arts play a pivotal role in increasing student achievement. Research shows that the benefits of arts education include greater motivation to learn, improved self-esteem, communication and social skills, increased creativity and innovation and, best of all, a lifelong appreciation for the arts. Let’s put more emphasis on the arts and ensure a balanced curriculum to develop and nurture creativity and critical thinking.

The Association’s publication The Courage to Choose states that universal access to early childhood education and a comprehensive community-based approach to enhancing the well-being of children and youth are essential to achieving the vision of Inspiring Action, the government’s recently released report, which presents a vision for education to 2030, based on extensive consultations with Albertans over a two-year period.

Inspiring Action holds great promise. If implemented, education partners can build a future that will continue to serve all students well. The preamble to the Association’s Preferred Futures states:

A cornerstone of the Alberta we want to create is a strong public education system that develops the full potential of all children to learn, to care about one another and to contribute to the collective prosperity of Albertans in an inclusive and democratic society. 

It would seem reasonable then that a good education in Alberta would help young people be fully functional members of society. Alberta can continue to be a global leader in learning. We need schools where students develop their talents and strengths, where they play and learn about the arts and where they learn to become involved, engaged and caring citizens. Instead of anywhere, anytime, anyplace and at any pace learning, let’s think about every child, every day, everywhere.