Conseil supérieur de l'éducation
 
PROGRAMS OF STUDY AND THE REGULATIONS — THE MAJOR ISSUES


Summary

 

This brief by the Conseil supérieur de l’éducation deals mainly with the draft Basic school regulation for preschool, elementary and secondary education which the Minister of Education submitted to the Conseil for review in October 1998. It also deals with the Basic vocational training regulation and the Basic adult education regulation. Finally, it deals with other aspects affecting the curriculum reform and the current process of change.

The Conseil focused its analyses less on administrative functioning than on the key issues which regulations must govern. With this in mind, the Conseil recommends many changes which would make the Basic school regulation for preschool, elementary and secondary education more consistent with the broad orientations set forth in Québec Schools on Course and The Reform of the Education System – A New Direction for Success.

Cycles and Cross-Curricular Learning in Elementary School

The Conseil gives careful consideration to the question of cycles, which it finds is not explained well enough in the draft regulation. Indeed, until now, the cycles had no real function. The structure of elementary education is still based on promotion from one grade to the next and the possible repeating of a grade. Cycles, i.e., learning objectives and a teaching approach organized by cycle, have an infinitely greater potential for several reasons: they can lessen overuse of summative evaluation; they can provide the ideal means for cooperation and interaction by members of a teaching team; and most of all, they can inspire more constant and imaginative support of adaptive pedagogy. Cycles are particularly effective in debunking the old myth that all students in a given group progress in the same way—the same preconceived mythology that will be eliminated by more flexible programs that can be adapted to students who experience difficulty or need enrichment. In order better to do justice to this significant potential of renewal, in which the Conseil firmly believes, the Conseil suggests that the meaning of cycles be explained more clearly in the Basic school regulation for preschool, elementary and secondary education itself. In its discussion of elementary school, the Conseil also comes back to the enormous potential of cross-curricular learning. Cross-curricular learning—which might more clearly be called cross-disciplinary skills—is the direct descendant of active or adaptive pedagogy, of the concern for developing complex intellectual skills and of the more recent awareness of the pedagogical benefits of paying attention to metacognition, that is, to strategies for learning more and learning better. The present reform encourages educators to broaden and reinforce their consideration of these issues. It would do the reform a serious disservice if people were made to believe that this is a totally new direction. At this point, the Conseil states that it would like to see a less timid Regulation. Indeed, as it now stands, the Regulation addresses the matter of cross-curricular learning indirectly and belatedly, in a section dealing with report cards. The Conseil feels that cross-curricular learning should be given more prominence at the beginning of the major sections governing the overall balance of the curriculum at the elementary and at the secondary levels.

Good and "Bad" Differentiation

Adaptive pedagogy is always positive and programs that can be both adapted and enriched have many similarities to it. In its examination of the present state of the first cycle of secondary school, the Conseil delves further into the following issue: Does the lack of adaptive pedagogy—or the adherence to a pedagogy that is too standardized—not cause many students to fail or repeat a grade, and does this not indicate that a differentiated curriculum would be justified in preventing such a problem? Currently, the first cycle of secondary school offers a considerable number of paths that allow for adaptation and remediation, and that promote social and vocational integration. It does not offer very much enriched content within each course, but rather many well-known alternatives such as international education, art-study and sport-study programs, an emphasis on modern languages and on the sciences. From the beginning of secondary school, there is a great deal of differentiation in the curriculum. Does such differentiation remain beneficial if educators work increasingly according to cycles, with constant support and with much more adaptable programs of study? In the Conseil’s opinion, this is far from certain. This differentiation of paths, basically created during the last 15 years, is rooted in the division of responsibilities between the Ministère, school boards and schools, which Bill 180 has just eliminated. Moreover, the division was developed and reinforced to an extent in parallel with the former regulation. In this context, the Conseil very strongly recommends that in the new Regulation the Minister of Education make a clear distinction between responsibilities of the Ministère and of the schools with respect to curricula differentiated through parallel paths, enrichment, or remedial education. Secondly, the Conseil urges that paths encouraged and often financed by the Ministère de l’Éducation be provided for and described in the Regulation.

Balance, Richness and Relevance of the Curriculum as a Whole

The Conseil reiterates here its strong reticence toward a number of decisions already stated in Québec Schools on Course. It bases itself on the educational policy statement’s main guidelines which it considers badly applied and badly integrated into the structuring of the curriculum through the subject-time allocations. While the Conseil’s entire analysis and debate will not be reviewed here, its positions will nevertheless be briefly outlined. First, the Conseil believes that the cultural enrichment of the curriculum is also valid for elementary school; that it is dependent upon a complementary relationship between specialty teachers and classroom teachers; that this relationship would be seriously threatened by limiting student classroom time to 23.5 hours instead of 25; and finally, that it would be extremely unfortunate if the proposed removal of the introduction to science, history and geography from the first cycle of elementary education were to be approved. The Conseil does not believe that preserving these subjects risks thwarting students’ progress in mathematics or in language of instruction. Combined with a 23.5 hour school week, this decision engenders an impoverished, truncated curriculum in which teaching in the arts, physical education and English, second language remains tenuous. With respect to secondary school, the Conseil commends the adoption of cross-curricular learning in the field of language, and sees in this, by its reinforcement of high-quality teaching, the best guarantee of ultimate student mastery of the language of instruction. Nevertheless, the Conseil reiterates its reservations concerning the allocation of 24 credits rather than the present 18 to French, language of instruction in the first cycle of secondary school, an increase that causes the few remaining optional credits to disappear from the first cycle. Finally, the Conseil strongly urges that seven rather than five optional courses be planned for the second cycle of secondary school.

A More Accessible and More Ambitious Second Cycle of Secondary School

Québec Schools on Course does not give a detailed description of how a differentiated second cycle of secondary school should function. In addition, the proposed regulation does not clearly support a second cycle of secondary school that can accommodate—in addition to its present complement of students—a good 15% of young people who have dropped out of school or who have moved on to the adult sector. It does not even clearly state the advantage of a path that would lead to secondary vocational education after the Secondary School Diploma (SSD) is obtained. The Conseil would rather apply to the second cycle the main guidelines that emerged as a result of the Estates General on Education and were formulated in A New Direction for Success. These guidelines describe a secondary school that is more demanding, with the cooperation and participation of the college system. They describe a second cycle of secondary school in which more students are motivated and able to succeed; which increases students’ awareness of promising career areas and of the training that will qualify them in these areas; and finally, which promote the creation of options and paths in the major technological field.

One or More Diplomas?

The 1997 report Reaffirming the Mission of Our Schools reiterated the benefits of marking the end of the first cycle of secondary school by granting a first certificate of secondary studies, but potential disadvantages caused the question to be left unresolved. The Conseil recommends that this certificate be instituted to motivate students to remain in school until the end of the first cycle of secondary school. With respect to the conditions for obtaining the Secondary School Diploma upon completion of Secondary V, the Conseil approves of one of the two proposed changes, namely to require 60 credits out of 72 to be successfully completed rather than the previous 54. However, it does not support the other change which, beyond the currently required courses, would consist in requiring that students pass three additional courses: Mathematics and English, second language in Secondary V, and Science and Technology in Secondary IV. The Conseil warns here against adding to the hierarchy of course categories, which include optional courses, compulsory courses but with no requirement to pass and compulsory courses with the requirement to pass. This hypothesis is inconsistent with the notion of a second cycle which encourages students to choose more demanding courses. Instead, it encourages them to choose less difficult courses in compulsory subjects. The real message to be conveyed is that all courses are important and worthy of effort.

New Link between General Education and Vocational Education: Concurrent General and Vocational Education

The Conseil welcomes the change that was described in the vocational training regulation with respect to the conditions for studying for the Diploma of Vocational Studies (DVS) or the Vocational Education Certificate (VEC) before the age of 18. It recommends, however, that there be a further explanation of the extent and type of general education that students will take in conjunction with vocational education. The Conseil also urges a more detailed study of the many types of links, often forgotten, between general education and the acquisition of special skills.

For the Success of the Reform

It is not enough for a regulation to be well written. In addition, consideration must be given to the revised programs and their schedule of implementation. How can the field-testing of these programs be made sufficiently stimulating and enriching? What type of common referential should be given to the new, revised programs? At this point, the Conseil issues some warnings, which reflect widely shared concerns. As well, the significant contribution made by universities to the success of the reform through teacher training is emphasized. Finally, the Conseil applies to the present reform its recent reflections on the management of change in education and on the sharing of powers and responsibilities, and whose content remains highly relevant to the success of the reform. In conclusion, the Conseil reviews a few general perspectives and then makes several specific suggestions such as including in the regulation the acknowledgement of Québec’s cultural diversity; explaining how the school’s three-fold mission contributes to students’ personal development; consolidating student services; explaining the relationship between the vocational education regulation and the one for preschool, elementary and secondary education; and finally, continuing the consideration of the Basic adult education regulation in order to incorporate into it the new perspectives of the Basic school regulation for preschool, elementary and secondary education.


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