Government Employees Can Make Egregious Errors Without Consequences

    Do not think about, write about or deal with  human behavior without determining the effects of incentives.

   Wherein we see that yet another educational jurisdiction starting to use a technique, constructivism or discovery learning,which has failed each time it has been tried. This is what can happen when a government cult gets scads of public money for decades, they do the most outrageous and destructive things in the name of progress.

    National Post – (Latest Edition)

Education reforms have critics calling for teachers to go ‘back to basics’
It’s misguided to use this as your central paradigm
with young children

Over the next two years, Alberta is preparing what may well be the most dramatic overhaul of Canadian school curricula in modern times.


  Hundreds of curricula have been dramatically overhauled for decades–always the same result.

Alberta students may rank among Canada’s top tier for performance, but by 2016, officials have nevertheless vowed that the “traditional” teaching methods of textbooks-andchalkboards will be dead, replaced instead by an unstructured system to craft “engaged thinkers,” “ethical citizens” and “entrepreneurial spirits.”


    Government drones teaching about “entrepreneurial spirits”–where are the satirists of old to skewer these arrogant know-nothings? We’ll fail in the same way as many others and call it creative.

“We’re changing everything,” says a perky voice in a two-minute Government of Alberta video outlining the new program. “We’re preparing [students] for a future we can’t imagine, and giving them the tools to succeed in work that doesn’t yet exist.”

While Alberta is the most prominent example, it is only one of many recent converts to the concept of “discovery learning,” a system in which students would be left to learn on their own, with minimal teacher guidance. But as planners enthusiastically advocated to take the fire-axe to more than a century of classroom norms, a cadre of opponents are warning that, without sufficient evidence, these schools may be making a terrible mistake.

“It’s sort of the latest thing; there was hulahooping, skateboarding and roller skating, and now there’s ‘ 21st century education,’” said University of Manitoba math professor Robert Craigen, a prominent critic of discovery learning.

“The idea with discovery learning is that the teacher doesn’t have any information for students; what the teacher has is an educational experience in which the student is faced with a problem, and by solving the problem they create knowledge,” he said.

“In my view, it’s misguided to use this as your central paradigm with young children; children need structure and input.”

Also known as “inquiry-based learning,” “constructivist learning” or “experiential learning,” the basic concept of discovery learning is to let students learn the curriculum on their own, without the need to be dictated facts by an instructor.

Although the general idea dates back to early 20th century educational reformers, of late the concept has increasingly been touted as the perfect successor to the “textbooks and chalkboards” educational approaches of decades past.

Next door to Alberta, British Columbia has begun to adopt what it calls “personalized learning,” a move away from “uniform learning outcomes” toward “student-initiated,” “self-directed education.”

While it only exists in scattered B.C. pilot programs, the province has promised its education system is on the road toward a “personalized learning model.”

Many provinces have had a dry run on the theory, with math. The 1996 Western and Northern Canadian Protocol (WNCP) introduced a discovery learning approach to math in all but Ontario and Quebec.

While Ontario soon introduced its own similar math program, Quebec, in typical contrarian fashion, specifically mandated that its teachers ignore the Canadian trend in math education.

For critics of discovery learning, the results of the OECD’s latest comparison of worldwide student performance speaks for itself: While Canada’s math performance has been slipping since 2006, Quebec’s has held steady.

As of 2013, overall Canadian mathematic talent ranked alongside the like of Poland, Estonia and Belgium, while La Belle Province held court with math giants like Macao and Japan.

In Manitoba, it was Mr. Craigen, as well as University of Winnipeg math professor Anna Stokke, who recently led the charge to have the WNCP system overturned, and a “back to basics” program installed in its place.

“We’re not going back to ‘kill and drill,’ that’s not what we’re trying to accomplish here,” Manitoba Education Minister Nancy Allan said in September. “But there has to be a basic foundation in regards to adding, and subtracting, and memorizing math facts [and] knowing how to do math at an early age.”

The persistent argument of Mr. Craigen and his supporters is that while discovery learning sounds nice, it has no scientific backing. That, just like Coca-Cola’s 1985 decision to throw out its century-old recipe in favour of New Coke, the likes of Alberta are betting their entire education system on an unproven concept.

Mr. Craigen is far from the first academic to say as much. In 2006, a team of three educational researchers — hailing from California, Australia and the Netherlands — combed through more than 100 “empirical studies” on discovery learning to see if it worked. Their verdict, published in the journal Educational Psychologist, was unequivocal.

“After a half-century of advocacy associated with instruction using minimal guidance, it appears that there is no body of research supporting the technique,” they wrote.

A particularly “distressing” finding, according to the researchers, was that students appeared to love discovery learning, “even though they learn less from it.”

More recently, a study led by the City University of New York conducted a meta-analysis of 164 studies on discovery learning, and concluded that “unassisted discovery does not benefit learners.”


  “Does not benefit” means doesn’t work, but we’ll try it one more time.

Classroom discovery is fine, the study concluded, but without some “scaffolding” or “feedback” in place to guide students, they would never reach the level of their “traditional learning” contemporaries.

“Opportunities for constructive learning might not present themselves when learners are left unassisted,” it read.

Alberta’s wholesale conversion to inquirybased learning came with the 2010 report Inspiring Education. Drafted over a twoyear period by a 22-member Ministry of Education steering committee, it advocated a dramatic shift toward “learner-centred” education.

“For learners to achieve their full potential, education must make the child the centre of all decisions related to learning and education,” it read.

Teachers, instead of being instructors, would be an “architect of learning — one who plans, designs and oversees learning activities.

The report even opened with a detailed illustration of what this future would look like: Chipo, a new student from Zimbabwe, enrols in an Alberta public school. After introducing herself, she uses a wrist-mounted digital projector to give the class a real-time tour of her home village.

Following along, classmates become immediately intrigued by the sight of an “mbira” (thumb piano).

After happily dancing to its captivating strains, they get to work drafting a 3D model of their own mbira and ultimately creating “a performance piece that they share with other classes at the next school assembly,” it reads.

“Our packed curriculum stifles creativity in the classroom,” Alberta Education Minister Jeff Johnson told Postmedia this week. He added “there’s too much stuff to try to get through and it doesn’t allow enough flexibility to individualize learning, which is going to be really key in the future.”

On Thursday, Alberta Premier Alison Redford promised that the reforms would be “exciting” and “transformative.”

Mr. Craigen insists he is not an opponent of discovery learning in general, only of employing it as the modus operandi of an entire education system.

“It’s an interesting side dish, a plate of olives, but it’s not your main meal,” he said. “And if it becomes your main meal, you’re going to get a tummy ache.”


  Regardless of all of the clever arguments, these procedures don’t work, haven’t worked and can’t work. Q.E.D.

To order my novel, “Days of Songs and  Mirrors: A Jacobite in the ‘45”, click here.


Government Job or Respect–Which’ll It Be?
Cheerio and ttfn,
Grant Coulson
Cui Bono–Cherchez les Contingencies


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