In Ottawa, Uniting for Children and Youth (UCY) is doing the same. A grassroots network of parents, students, educators, and community members, the organization is raising awareness of initiatives that prioritize the physical, mental, and emotional health of Ottawa’s young people. Some of UCY’s concerns are the importance of outdoor play, active and safe routes to school, healthy habits, and future-proofing youth with 21st century skills. By coming together, UCY members have a unified voice informed by a variety of backgrounds, which they can leverage to inspire community members and policymakers working to explore alternatives in education.
“What we’re focusing on is how we can go about helping kids acquire the type of skills they need for today’s world,” says Richard Fransham, one of UCY’s organizers, who is a former teacher and a founding member of the Ottawa Public Education Remake Initiative.
UCY has identified four skills as priorities for Ontario students: communication, critical thinking, creativity, and collaboration. “The Ontario curriculum is content-based,” says Erin Anderson, founder of the Revel Academy, “and we don’t live in a content world anymore. We need skills over content.”
Doug Hunter, eastern Ontario’s regional director for Destination Imagination and a former IBM executive, echoes this sentiment. “Going forward, it’s less (about) the facts you know,” says Hunter. “The skills the business world (are) looking for don’t necessarily, come from good marks.” He wants the world to see Canada as a nation of innovators, but stresses that people need to make sure that youth are equipped to solve the problems of tomorrow.
Several UCY members are involved with pilot programs or alternative education models. “You can see a lot of people working on different parts of that puzzle and you can start to see it coming together,” says Manon van Mil, education director for the Compass Centre for Self-Directed Learning. Fransham, for example, has worked on a pilot to help high school students spend a term managing their own classroom time.
“We need to engage kids more in learning by giving them more control,” he says.
Jean-François Proulx, founder of La Fondation Momentum Jeunesse, has been working with a project which brings stationary bikes into the classroom. Proulx says: “you can talk all about healthy living but the kids need to feel it. The model is a positive way to change a bit of the culture.” Andrea Ghazzawi, a parent and University of Ottawa researcher, says that “the goal should be to have a system that supports the health and well-being of children and ensures that the environment is a safe, healthy, stimulating environment for health and learning.” She says collaborating at UCY meetings has been invigorating, that is, to find others concerned about the same things. Proulx agrees. “There are a lot of people that are passionate about kids.”
UCY members hope that schools will try new ideas, many of which are simple and inexpensive to scale. “A lot of the time, teachers will try to make improvements, but they might be restricted by the administration, or the administration will ask for it but teachers have a lot on their plates,” says van Mil. Hunter adds that the school boards are struggling with trying to figure out ways to bring more new ideas to the classroom. “We can look at other ways of providing education,” he adds.
UCY members hope that more experimentation and more research will help determine the best ways to deliver education and promote student success. “We’re not advocating for a big jump,” says Fransham, “we want to take the smallest possible step, and start to get some answers – to get people’s imaginations going.”
To get involved, visit UCYottawa on Facebook.