Quebec goes for a progressive approach

CANADA Teachers will be 'guide on the side', not 'sage on the stage' in new child centred curriculum that stresses project work.

QUEBEC is introducing a new child-centred curriculum based on project work and team learning for all primary and secondary pupils, in a bid to retain the third of teenagers who drop out.

In a radical move, children themselves will now help to assess their own progress.

The existing 20-year-old curriculum, blamed for driving pupils in the province away from school, prescribes content and hundreds of outcomes to be achieved in each subject.

It will be replaced by a requirement for students to master thousands of "competencies" - discrete skills such as editing - in realistic contexts that matter to them. Measurement of the levels reached in those competencies will be carried out jointly by teachers and the children themselves.

"Our new curriculum recognises that skills and knowledge do not develop in a one-shot basis but, rather, over time in changing learning situations," said a spokesman for the education ministry.

"Our competency-based approach will allow teachers to differentiate between students' needs and tailor instruction to individual needs by using students' real interests."

Under the new system, the teacher's role will shift from being a "sage on the stage to a guide on the side" who facilitates students' learning by helping them discover different subject knowledge.

Teachers will have to encourage students to take responsibility for their learning and help them apply wha they have found out in activities in school and in everyday life.

Quebec's school rooms will be filled with students working on projects that develop skills they can apply across the curriculum.

What content there is, says education minister Francois Legault, should be adapted to students' interests: if Pokemon can be used in place of a dry theoretical concept, he wants it used.

According to the ministry, instruction in English language, for instance, will involve students in problem-solving, team work, and constructing and designing different kinds of responses to set texts.

A group that studies the work of author John Birmingham might involve children in research into how the books are produced, an interview with the author via the Internet, production of illustrated books, and working in teams to produce responses to questions.

"We believe this kind of project system will engage learners to take control of their own learning, motivate kids to make connections with their immediate world and make school more relevant to their own lives," said Ainsley Rose, who is director of education for the Western Quebec School Board.

The curriculum also alters the way grades are determined. Progress towards a competency will be evaluated by teachers and students, who will together survey and judge the portfolio of work that each child will keep.

Children's involvement in their own evaluation is considered crucial to making them aware of their own learning needs and helping them develop lifelong learning skills.

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