The learning environments and educational approaches utilized in the majority of classrooms across our country (particularly publicly funded post-secondary institutions) are based on educational practices developed hundreds of years ago before digital technology was available. This creates a situation where a minority of students get access to effective teachers, while the majority must suffer from poorly delivered education based on ineffective educational practices which often ignore basic pedagogy. This is a systemic issue of educational inequality (prevalent throughout our institutions), which I would argue is a fundamental root issue in Canadian society. Since many citizens are largely unaware that this is even an issue, the problem remains unaddressed as other progressive nations jump ahead in this area of innovation. High quality, evidence based education should be a right for all people, and we are not currently progressing towards that goal at the pace that is required within our current national and global situation.
The government has made post-secondary education more affordable and accessible, but there is still no standard of quality and very little application of evidence based educational technology and learning environments. There is plenty of research that has been conducted in key universities that proves the effectiveness of progressive educational approaches (although many universities do not yet have programs offered in the Learning Sciences).
To attract and keep the world’s best talent, Canada needs a clear goal: to become a world leader in digital education technology (particularly evidence based solutions that are scalable) that can assist individual learners as well as blended learning environments, both throughout our country and throughout the world. Canada should aim to create value for the entire world by creating cross-platform applications that will work well across mobile and desktop platforms (likely with the focus being on mobile to benefit the most people). Canada should see evidence based education as a right to all people, and should aim to provide it to all of its citizens as well as people in third world countries. There are many people (in Canada and throughout the world) who don’t have access effective schools or effective teachers, which leads to a lower quality of life.
The best way to support startups and growing companies is to focus on effective 21st century education for all Canadians. That means focusing on areas such as basic computational thinking, problem solving, programming, health education, project-based learning, basic learning sciences education, educational technology development, and harnessing creativity and collaboration by the practice of creating solutions that add measurable value to people’s lives and the environment. This is the basis for creating an entrepreneurial and creative society. If students undergo project-based learning using digital technologies, public-private industry partnerships will naturally emerge, and startups will begin to flourish.
Canada has a strength in ICT technologies, but very few attempts are currently made to retain the talent that we produce. The people who leave Canada to work at top technology companies are usually motivated learners who frequently engage in self-directed learning. If Canada can produce the best educational technologies, these technologies can scale up and target everyone all the way from our children to the top technologists to improve their learning efficiency as they learn new technologies. It is only natural that they will then be interested in being part of this educational movement and want to contribute tools and content to the new educational platforms that are created. Since this goal has the higher purpose of improving the lives of Canadians and people worldwide, people will likely want to participate if it also means becoming global leaders in this emerging market. As more devices and people are added to the internet, having the best mobile education platforms will ensure Canada’s economic viability moving forward in the 21st century.
Creating a demand for research in educational development will spur scientific growth and excellence within our higher educational institutions. There is already good research being done which can be leveraged, but implementing those findings and testing which approaches are the most effective will be a scientific exercise. This will involve taking all the leading innovations and creating a landscape of cooperative competition among educators and technologists as we learn which approaches are the most effective in which situations. If Canada conducts this research and publishes the findings, other countries will begin to look to Canada for the best insights into learning sciences and effective education.
We can also leverage these educational platforms to inform our citizens about the most pressing issues we face as a nation and a species. By teaching all people how to use technology effectively, companies will naturally start to grow. By teaching all people about clean growth and the environment, our startups can have a positive impact on the earth. By teaching all people about local and global issues and creating effective impact, our effort can be directed in the most beneficial way. This provides the perfect foundation for Canada to become a strong competitor in today’s digital world. Delivering distributed educational solutions that really work is the one of the best value propositions that Canada can offer to the rest of the world.
If Canada is successful in creating scalable educational technology that can be easily delivered to other countries, clusters and partnerships will naturally emerge throughout the world. Canada can utilize its progressive political situation to help lift the world out of educational poverty, which is in line with the goals of the UN. Most of the other large issues in the world are arguably symptomatic of the root problem: inaccessible or ineffective education. Mobile technologies can be flexible to work in situations where not many devices are available or there is low internet connectivity. For example, paper materials can be printed based on the curriculum content stored within the platform, which can also be stored locally on devices if there is no connection. Or, the application can enter a mode where only the teacher uses it to guide lessons and manage student learning and progress. This can help fix the teaching gap that exists in counties around the world as it would not require teachers to be fully qualified to deliver material that has been proven to be effective in such situations, such as flipped/mastery/personalized/adaptive learning technologies (and so on). I could dive into the details of effective educational approaches here, but it is hard to summarize years of research and innovation that has happened in the top private institutions around the world in several paragraphs. Of course, I would be happy to provide additional resources and research, as well as several reports I’ve written that contain my own ideas of how to implement such educational platforms and environments.
Creating educational policy that ensures the availability of evidence-based educational technology and learning environments to all people helps Canadians greatly in the short term, but even more so in the long term. If we combine the diversity of skills that Canadians already possess with the ability to create effective technologies, Canada will produce innovations across a large spectrum of sectors. This is likely the ultimate way to stimulate economic development, create jobs and improve the lives of as many people as possible.
It is only a matter of time before coding education becomes mandatory within Canadian schools, or at the very least widely adopted. By investing in innovative educational technologies, Canada will not only be avoiding the pitfalls of the current approaches to coding education, but will also prevent us from having to outsource the job to other countries to provide often untested coding educational tools to us. This will save us money and produce value in our economy since the relationship will work the other way around. Although it is a good idea to provide free education the people who need it most (such as people in low-income situations inside and outside Canada), we can also create economic growth by selling to other wealthy nations. This will be a natural result of ubiquitous evidence based education which empowers all Canadians with the digital and entrepreneurial skills needed in the 21st century.
If ineffective coding education is provided to new students, they may fail to properly learn these digital technologies and simply assume that they are incapable of understanding core concepts in this area. When this happens, we lose another potential innovator and the person’s ability to create change in the world is significantly diminished. What we need is effective coding education that has been developed using the insights already available in our research sector.
Instead of simply throwing money at this problem, we should aim to create highly effective teams of educators who have extensive expertise in the areas of pedagogy, progressive educational technology and learning environments. These teams should be paired with our best technologists to create powerful educational platforms that meet a list of criteria for providing the most effective education possible. The technology should be low-cost, and evidence based. It should be a general solution, which allows our leading educators to easily insert their educational content to create courses and modules that can then undergo iterative improvement as they are utilized and tested among the population. After educators insert their educational content onto the platform, this content can be delivered to students with applications that leverage provide techniques and learning models, such as flipped classrooms or mastery learning models. For example, software that allows students to input data while watching videos (such as questions, confusion points, and notes) can assist in Flipped Classroom approaches. Software that breaks up learning modules into smaller parts with generated quizzes can assist in implementing Mastery Learning environments, or Adaptive Learning technologies. After the data is stored in the system, it can be output to the user in different ways because of the flexibility of software, and new technologies can be leveraged as time goes on with pre-existing educational data, possibly scanned in from raw written course material. In fact, it is almost impossible to predict all of the innovations in this area that Canadians will produce once they are given the skills and direction which is desperately needed.
Although the creation of a general purpose platform (which facilitates easy educational content creation) will be the most effective solution for tackling this issue, desperate short term measures are required. In my view, the most important things to develop first are the following:
- A set of online materials and courses which will educate Canadian teachers on evidence based educational technologies and learning environments. A condensed course containing the key educational concepts is also needed, which works will on mobile as well as PC platforms. This will allow our teachers to understand the basics of high quality education, and dispel harmful misconceptions that many teachers currently have (for example, teachers fear that these technologies aim to replace them, when in reality they are meant to empower and assist them, make them more effective at their jobs, and improve their experience teaching students). Of course, these materials can and should be available to all Canadians, as it is their right to understand effective education and what we know about it.
- A set of online materials and courses which can be used to effectively teach people basic coding and computation thinking. Again, these courses should be condensed to the core concepts and skills, and should focus on getting the student immediately engaged with the practice of solving problems and coding. Measures should be taken to ensure that these educational experiences are engaging and effective, to ensure that the majority of people can successfully obtain and retain the material. Active learning is extremely important in this area, which leads directly to project based learning (this is one of most effective ways to teach this subject: by having students work on creative projects that involve to their existing areas of interest or expertise, using coding as a tool to accomplish other goals). The content delivered can also be scaled up and down to be useful for elementary schools, high schools, post-secondary, retraining our workforce, as well as any Canadian with access to a mobile device or PC. Just like normal written language, coding and technology literacy can be applied to almost any discipline and is at the heart of innovation, giving citizens the tools to empower themselves, Canada, and ultimately the rest of the world.
- There are several other core areas that also need covered such as 21st century skills (including the four Cs), as well as environmental, world issues and personal health education. Basic reading, writing, mathematics and science are also desperately needed in the global community, as well as in a subset of our own population.
- Progressive educational policy to spur the development of these educational technologies, as well as their implementation in learning environments. Schools and teachers do not necessarily need to be required to implement the solutions supported by these policies. Instead, educational materials and applications that will educate them of these issues and technologies should be developed, tested and distributed. Incentives might be provided to teachers to accelerate widespread adoption. We should aim to create awareness of these issues and ideas, so that solutions can be developed sooner and more effectively. This is probably a better approach than enforcing solutions onto teachers (even though many are already evidence based), which could cause a negative reaction. If students are informed on these issues as well (based on clear direction proposed by the Canadian government) they will naturally seek the highest quality education available to them. Currently, students are mostly uninformed on these issues, and are usually only seeking to be awarded the best resume qualifications for a high job status. Instead, they could be focusing on finding the right learning environments that will allow them to develop and cultivate useful skills that enable them to provide value for themselves and society. From that foundation, Canadians will be able to pursue their interests more often based on the abundance created by a more digitally progressive society.