Mike Davies, Editor-in-Chief Ω
It would be impossible to pass along everything that was presented or discussed at a weekend conference, and the International Research Institute’s Language, Culture and Community Conference held July 6 to 9 at TRU is no exception, but there are a few things that stood out as especially pertinent to a broad range of post-secondary students, and The Omega is happy to help pass those things on.
The conference opened, as conferences do, with a welcome — or rather a series of welcomes.
Doreen Kenoras, elder of the Secwepemc Nation and TRU Aboriginal Centre welcomed attendees to their land with a traditional welcome song.
Dr. Terry Sullivan, Superintendent of School District #73 (Kamloops) welcomed all, and highlighted the relationship between the school district and the university, particularly their partnership in the Leadership Development Program — which runs in conjunction with TRU Master of Educational program — which as he said, “is designed to create the future municipal and regional leaders in our communities.”
Dr. Will Garrett-Petts, the “newly minted” (as he put it) associate vice president of research and graduate studies, explained how the conference was designed “to encourage the coming together of established and emerging scholars…including the scholarship of teaching.”
The opening keynote, Enhancing Public Accountability in Public Schooling in South Africa, given by professor Kobus Mentz, director of the School of Education at the North-West University in Potchefstroom, South Africa, was a perfect example of Garrett-Petts’ assertion.
Though the presentation was based on studying his home country’s public education system, Mentz aptly pointed out that the research was applicable to other regions and countries, as well — and considering the current turmoil in the public education system here in B.C. it is hard to see his presentation opening the conference as coincidental.
According to Mentz, ten years ago the entire education system of South Africa was restructured because it was dysfunctional, but he admits that they are still well behind where they should be — mainly because of a lack of “accountability culture.”
“Accountability,” said Mentz, “especially accountability in public education, is a multi-dimensional and multi-faceted idea.”
Mentz said that in order for the public education system to improve, their studies suggest that roles within that system need to be clarified, the status of teaching as a profession needs to be elevated and the partners in the delivery of education need to be able to trust each other, “because all services are delivered jointly (through partnerships) the nature of the partnership will determine the quality and relevance of the service being delivered.”
He also said that even though teachers unions are not a bad thing, giving them too much power is. In South Africa, one of the main teachers union is actually a part of the government, and the result is “what the union wants becomes policy,” whether or not it’s what’s best for those learning from the teachers.
Assessment issues in education
“Assessment” was a frequently used word over the weekend, as it tends to be one of the more contentious topics in education.
As Dr. Charles Webber’s July 7 presentation showed, there is a great divide between how people view assessment in education. Teachers, administrators, students and parents have very different views on not only how children should be assessed, but also how they currently are being assessed.
Based on a study involving 3,312 students, educators, parents, department of education personnel, teachers’ association, school council members, school trustees, professional developers and university faculty, Webber and his team have some recommendations for ways to improve the current education assessment systems.
According to Webber, the current methods of assessment in education, “have detrimental consequences within the educational system, and although any undue hardship is fully unintended, some students who typically are struggling to fit into existing structures may experience challenges that need to be addressed.”
Especially enlightening was the section of the study that asked teachers, students and parents to agree or disagree by varying degrees (a standard survey system) with statements about the assessment of students.
The huge separation in the results between the groups shows the perception of implemented assessment methods. For example, in the study, 32.6 per cent of teachers say late work is penalized, while 77.3 per cent of students say it is.
Webber says that he doesn’t penalize late assignments. In fact, he doesn’t assign deadlines at all.
“I tell my students, when I give them the course outline at the beginning of the semester, ‘You hand in stuff when you can, here are the times it would be most advantageous for you to receive feedback on these things…. This is when I’m supposed to have the marks in, so if you get everything in to me by such-and-such a date, your marks will go in. But, oh, by the way, if you hand absolutely every assignment in to me the day before those marks need to go in, I’m not going to be able to give your assignments the time and attention that you deserve.’”
He feels that by penalizing late assignments a teacher is not assessing the knowledge of the student.
Adjusting marks for any reason other than the actual academic content of the assignment is not proper assessment, according to Webber, because though it may be attempting to teach dedication, diligence, time management and other life skills, that is not what teachers are supposed to be assessing.
Dr. Yaying Zhang has been studying the multiculturalism of Canada through the lens of Chinese immigrants and their linguistic struggles, particularly the outside perception of them as “less Canadian” because of their accents.
“Linguistic bigotry is the last acceptable form of persecution in our society,” said Zhang, assistant professor of English at TRU and author of Language and Identity: Perspectives from New Canadians.
Her study suggests that people correcting their linguistic errors and asking seemingly innocent questions like “Where are you from” constantly relegate immigrants emotionally from “Canadian” to “immigrant” status.
“It’s embarrassing to be corrected, especially considering that in correcting them, you are acknowledging that you have understood the content of what was being said,” according to Zhang, which is basically the same as saying, Don’t worry, I’ll tell you how to say what you mean.
This “symbolic domination,” as Zhang puts it, puts emotional strain on the citizens because they are being constantly reminded that fluent English speakers consider them “less Canadian,” and said that they feel that they are perceived as less intelligent as well.
Zhang cited being asked by numerous students in her English class to confirm the course when they walk in the first day and see her standing at the front of the room and hear her speak as an example of this bigotry.