By Tina Comeau
Kyle Hill sits amongst a circle of Grade 11 and 12 students in a classroom at Yarmouth Consolidated Memorial High School, asking them what they like and dislike about school.
It’s a very casual conversation and the students are comfortable in giving Hill their feedback on what they see as the pros and cons of school.
Having Nova Scotians of all ages feel comfortable in providing feedback on the education system is a goal of the Minister’s Panel of Education, of which Hill is a member.
The panel has opted not to hold the conventional public-consultation-type meetings across the province, but Hill says there isn’t any lack of ways to provide input to the panel. (You can click here for a video interview with Kyle Hill.)
People are being urged to complete a survey, either online or in paper format. They can submit feedback by email, by mail and by telephone. They can submit their input as individuals or as a group. A guide that can be used to facilitate discussions and input from youth has also been created. Information on all of this cab be found by clicking here.
Student focus groups like the one Hill – a former graduate of Yarmouth Consolidated Memorial High School, who now lives and works in Toronto – facilitated with students on May 21 is a great way of gathering input, he said. He was one of several panel members meeting with students at various schools on Wednesday. Hill started out by asking the students what they like about school and what their favourite subjects are. The responses were varied – biology, English, history, psychology, etc.
Lunchtime got three votes.
He then asked the students about what they feel are the strengths of the school they attend. The discussion was interesting since it also involved some of the school’s international students, who were able to offer a comparison between the education system in Nova Scotia’s public schools compared to their own countries. Major changes they noted were the larger presence of school varsity teams and school clubs here. The structure of the school day also differs, with the structure back home being more rigid, they said.
There was debate over whether free periods –which many students have incorporated into their daily curriculum – is a good or bad thing. Some students said free periods are good because they allow students to get caught up or do more work in some classes in which they may be overwhelmed by the workload. Others said free periods can lead to abuse by students, who will leave the school during a free period and then not to return for their classes that follow.
The students were asked about what things they would change at their school if they could. While some changes were specific to the Yarmouth high school itself – students really don’t like the distance of the student parking lot from the school – others were broader and ranged from class sizes to whether students should receive exemptions from exams based on their marks. The students also felt the percentage that the grade of the final exam counts for in their courses is too high.
On the issue of attendance there was discussion about students skipping classes.
Hill asked why do students skip classes and what could be done to solve the problem?
The students said the reason for students skipping class varies, but often it can boil down to the type of material being taught in a classroom to the teacher and their teaching method. Many students said they prefer classes with dialogue that engages student participation as opposed to classes where they sit at the desks and copy down notes from a whiteboard. The latter makes them lose interest and focus, they said.
The panel will continue to gather the public's opinions on the education system and will prepare a report that outlines the concerns and priorities identified by Nova Scotians. The report is due in October.
This is the first comprehensive review of the education system to take place in Nova Scotia in 25 years.