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Jan 28

Chris Smeaton

Linking Education to the Economy

The following blog post  was published in the Lethbridge Herald on January 27, 2016

Alberta is in the midst of some tough financial challenges. With the price of oil continuing to be low and our Canadian dollar ever slipping on the world stage, we are in for some difficult times economically for the foreseeable future. While the ups and downs of the energy sector are somewhat cyclical in nature, and therefore predictable, we’ve not faced this “low” in a long time. But what does this information have to do with education?

The first obvious answer is simply for students to stay in school and graduate. It is generally accepted that the earning power of a high school graduate exceeds that of a drop out. That statement should ring true regardless of when the economy is strong or weak. However, there has to be more for these students than just the prize of graduation at the end of their academic careers.

Recognizing that our future is uncertain, our schools must prepare students for the turbulent times ahead. We can only achieve this goal with engaging classrooms that teach the competencies required for future success, not just a litany of curriculum. Education is the game changer in students’ lives when being a learner trumps being learned. The ability to be a learner, to problem solve, to articulate a critical response and to adapt, is instrumental in navigating this ever-changing world. The world of tomorrow will not require learned students who regurgitate knowledge and tend to have great difficulty adapting when the situation changes. As Eric Hofer suggests, “In times of change learners inherit the earth; while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.” The problems we will face in the future will likely be unsolvable by current solutions. So we need our students to be precise in the identification of these problems and divergent in their thinking to respond nimbly.

Holy Spirit Catholic School Division has been on this journey of preparing students for their future and not our past for a number of years. We are continually improving our learning environments to welcome creative minds who think outside the box and support innovative risk-takers. None of this is at the expense of the foundational skills of literacy and numeracy. In fact, these skills are core to all learners’ success.  But being learned alone, or a compliant student at best, will not assist in developing students to their full potential as committed learners.

The unknown future must be prepared for through education. We need to develop learners who will be successful in the future; learners who will challenge the status quo, be able to adapt to changing contexts and be flexible in their problem solving approaches. Developing these skills in our schools today will assist in the growth and development of students who are also highly resilient. And this student, well rounded and resilient, will be a learner who will be equally suited for a boom and bust economy or a more diversified approach.

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