Minister's summit hears from experts on education in 21st century

Article Posted: Thursday, October 17, 2019

​Leading experts in education are on hand at the New Brunswick Education Summit in Fredericton from Oct. 16-18 to assist 200 stakeholders, educators and government officials in developing a new game plan for the future of education in the province.

Tracey Burns, senior analyst with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), described a number of emerging trends which are shaping education around the globe. She encouraged educators to "look up" and be mindful of the world around them while teaching or carrying out their day-to-day work.

Burns said globalization has shifted economic power east to China and India and competition and the pressure to succeed is far greater in today's fast-paced, ever-changing world. 

"The world is becoming increasingly connected with global trade and digitalization," Burns said. "Graduates must be equipped to take part in research and high-tech industries."

Burns also discussed increased diversity in society, balancing the rights of everyone in the classroom, promoting democracy through civics education, and how a widening gap between rich and poor impacts access to education or success at school. Other current trends shaping education, she said, are cybersecurity, environmental security, inaccurate online data or fake news, rising debt, and the birth of new modern cultures via social media. At the same time, new health issues are evident including drug resistant super bugs, increasing rates of dementia, increased social isolation and the emotional well being of youth in the digital age. More and more, educators and students are dealing with the complexities of living and learning in today's society.

Kathleen Gallagher, director of research and evaluation for the Buffet Early Childhood Institute at the University of Nebraska, spoke about the importance of maximizing early education opportunities in order for children to achieve their best.

"The prosperity of the future rests on the care and education of young children," Gallagher said. "The thing that drives well-being in adulthood is high quality, early education." 

Gallagher stressed the importance of a healthy, early start in learning so that rapidly developing young minds can reach their full potential as they grow. Children need safe, quality learning environments where they can receive warm, responsive, frequent, one-on-one interaction as well as opportunities to experience play, she said. Positive and negative childhood experiences are carried through life and if there is stress, it can affect the ability to learn.

"Investment is important in creating the foundation for children to have the toolkit to learn," Gallagher explained. "There is nothing wrong with building a system that supports children and their working parents. The community benefit is economic vitality."

Gallagher said overcoming the achievement gap can be accomplished by addressing the opportunity gap for students. 

"To change the results, we must change the system and the roles of people within it," she noted. "We have to be ready for bold change."

In Nebraska, home visiting for the highest need families, quality child care programs, support for early childhood educators, and engaging communities in school as a hub for learning have helped to improve the delivery of education and transform the lives of children.

Education and Early Childhood Development Minister Dominic Cardy said the province wants to build a world class education system so New Brunswick students are ready to compete, have the ability to adapt and take their place in the future workforce. That includes improving literacy, language and numeracy skills, critical thinking skills, and understanding technology and its impact on everyday lives.

"If we can support teachers and engage students to have a passion for learning, nothing can hold this province back," Cardy said.

Premier Blaine Higgs said the summit offered a "momentous opportunity" to fix the education system and hear first-hand from educators about how improvements can be made.

"Your voices will help us begin the next chapter," Higgs explained. "This is a turning point when government starts to listen and that turning point is now."

Other sessions at the summit focused on leaderhip, experiential learning, future ready learners, and leveraging community and educational capacity.

The summit follows the release of a green paper that offers the public and stakeholders a reange of ideas and policies to consider on how to make the province's education system from birth to high school, the best in the world. It also includes specific actions government will undertake together with New Brunswickers in order to transform the education system. The goal is to have teachers, parents, students, the business community, professionals in early childhood and other New Brunswickers come together for a conversation about education that results in tangible, positive change. Some changes will be implemented quickly and some will take several years.

More meetings will be held in the province over the next few months to offer more people the opportunity to take part in the discussions.