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Education

RDC – Partnerships enhance program opportunities

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At Red Deer College, we are very proud of the breadth of more than 100 programs that we offer. In my column in June, I shared details about how we are launching seven new programs this academic year, which positively enhances the scope of our offerings.

While we often talk about programs at a high level, today I would like to share with you specific examples about what opportunities within our programs looks like for students on a day-to-day basis. This is the more personal side to our programming, because it involves the experiences, relationships and learnings that can have lifelong impacts on our students. The examples I will discuss are possible thanks to the strong partnership that Red Deer College has with Red Deer Public School District (RDPSD).

Last year, our two organizations entered into agreement that, in its most functional way, could be described as trading spaces to enhance learning opportunities. In September 2017, Red Deer Public School District began using a classroom at RDC for the new College High School, which provides an alternative site for high school students to complete their education here at RDC.

And starting in September 2019, RDC students in the School of Education will benefit from a dedicated, flexible learning space, as well as learning opportunities in the new Westpark Middle School, which is currently under construction.

But this partnership is about so much more than just spaces in which to learn. Thanks to our partnership – and under the leadership of Gloria Antifaiff, Dean of RDC’s School of Education, along with Della Ruston, Associate Superintendent, System Services with RDPSD, and Dean Pasiuk, Principal at Westpark Middle School – we had the opportunity to dream big. We collaborated to determine what the areas of need were, and we looked at creative ways we could work together to best serve our students of all ages.

We are so encouraged by the successes so far. With the College High School, students are taking their high school courses at RDC, and this offers them the opportunity they might not otherwise have had to attain their high school diplomas. These students may have left high school early and are now looking to complete, or the high school environment may not be the right fit for them to be successful in their studies.

Now, thanks to the College High School, they can complete their courses at Red Deer College, taught by a teacher employed by RDPSD, and they can become familiar with and confident in the College environment. While completing their high school courses, they are also exposed to what post-secondary education looks like, and this opens the door for many new possibilities for their futures.

As we look to the future starting next September, we are so excited for what the opportunities at Westpark Middle School will mean for our RDC students in the School of Education. The dedicated classroom space and immersion within the school setting will provide our students with a real-time learning lab in a safe, supportive environment.

Our plan for this space in Westpark Middle School is to deliver a required course that all Bachelor of Education students have to take in either their first or second year. This will allow them to become familiar with and comfortable in a school setting very early in their academic program. They will be able to start building a toolbox of strategies that will help them as future teachers, and they will learn how to interact with students and staff through their coursework and other potential volunteer opportunities. In addition, we are also exploring ways to incorporate this type of experiential learning into the Educational Assistant program.

This is a unique model within a middle school setting, and it is an example of workplace integrated learning, which will be an important part of RDC’s future programming as a comprehensive regional teaching university.

These positive learning opportunities are only possible because of our strong partnership and the support, dedication and commitment from both Red Deer Public School District and Red Deer College. We are all extremely passionate about teaching and learning, and this has been a wonderful opportunity for our organizations – located just across the street from each other – to partner for the benefit of our community members and our students.

Dr. Paulette Hanna is Vice President Academic at Red Deer College.
This column was first published in Red Deer Advocate on Saturday, September 29, 2018.

COVID-19

Learning loss piles up alongside snow while ‘e-learning’ collects dust

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From the Fraser Institute

By Alex Whalen and Paige MacPherson

During COVID school closures, students in the province missed at least 125 days of school between March 2020 and February 2022, more than any other province (except Ontario), generating a significant learning loss from which students have not caught up.

In a world increasingly connected by technology, and given the Nova Scotia government recently spent tens of millions of dollars enabling at-home learning, one might think that students would seamlessly shift to online learning during the recent snowstorms to avoid losing crucial instructional time. Unfortunately, that’s not happening.

During COVID school closures, the Nova Scotia and federal governments spent at least $31.5 million dollars on “virtual school” and other technological upgrades so students could, according to the provincial government, “succeed, even in an at-home learning environment.”

Unfortunately, the electronic learning infrastructure—which includes Chromebooks, laptops and iPads for students and teachers, and additional support and new teachers for Nova Scotia Virtual School—is collecting dust in a corner while Nova Scotia kids are falling further behind.

This isn’t some blip in an otherwise strong record of instructional time for Nova Scotia students. During COVID school closures, students in the province missed at least 125 days of school between March 2020 and February 2022, more than any other province (except Ontario), generating a significant learning loss from which students have not caught up.

Indeed, according to the latest results (2022) from the Programme for International Assessment (PISA), the gold standard of testing worldwide, Nova Scotia 15-year-olds trail the Canadian average in reading by 18 points and trail the Canadian average in math by 27 points. For context, PISA characterizes a 20-point drop as one year of lost learning.

Moreover, between 2003 and 2022, Nova Scotia student performance in reading dropped by 24 points—more than one year of learning loss—and dropped by 45 points in math. In other words, in math, 15-year-old Nova Scotia students today are more than two years behind where Nova Scotia 15-year-olds were in 2003.

These troubling trends underscore the need to put the existing e-learning infrastructure to work. During a recent two-week period, students in the Cape Breton-Victoria Regional Centre for Education school district missed seven days of school due to snow. And some students missed an additional five days due to weather and power outages. That’s nearly three weeks. While more instructional time is not a silver bullet for student success—and with power outages, e-learning is not a perfect solution—it could still make a big difference.

According to international research, missed classroom time causes learning loss and impacts children for life, reducing their life-long earnings. Nova Scotia education researcher Paul Bennett found that lost classroom time due to inclement weather compounds absenteeism and sets back student achievement and social progress.

The Houston government should ensure that Nova Scotian students have access to teacher-directed e-learning when schools are closed and, like other jurisdictions in Canada and the United States, abandon the practise of simply cancelling school due to inclement weather. It’s simply common sense. The snow may pile up, but there’s no good reason why learning loss must pile up with it. Parents are right to demand access to the e-learning they’ve already paid for through their tax dollars.

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Education

Bad student visa policy is no solution for bad student visa policy

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From the MacDonald Laurier Institute

By Ken Coates

Making matters worse, a Statistics Canada report released in November of 2023 found that the number of postsecondary students actually enrolled at Canadian Universities was 20% to 30% smaller than the total number of individuals with international student visa’s.

Post-secondary education is in turmoil, thrust into the headlines by the Government of Canada’s decision to cut back on international student visas and work permits. The near panicked response by colleges and universities across the county has attracted attention. The federal decision is poor public policy, with flawed timing, significant negative impacts, and potentially serious long-term implications. But the ‘solutions’ implemented in January 2024 are a classic example of using bad policy to address bad policy.  The fallout from this mélange of policy decisions could severely damage Canadian post-secondary institutions and the Canadian economy.

Governments, colleges, and universities have come to rely on international students, now numbering close to 1 million in Canada, particularly their tuition fees and the money that they bring into the country. The tuition fee revenues freed governments from the obligation to provide adequate funding to post-secondary institutions. Colleges and universities, for their part, used international student funding to avoid difficult, painful decisions related to the level of provincial support (the territories are not strongly affected by these processes).

The current controversy reflects more than a decade of poor and ineffective federal policies. Canada opened the gates for immigration, reaching unprecedented levels of refugees, formal immigrants, and hundreds of thousands of international students. Making matters worse, a Statistics Canada report released in November of 2023 found that the number of postsecondary students actually enrolled at Canadian Universities was 20% to 30% smaller than the total number of individuals with international student visa’s. Pointing to significant abuse of the study permit system, the report states, “It is unclear whether [the international ‘students’] stayed in Canada and, if so, what their main activities were.”

Our rapidly rising population is now blamed, not always accurately, for a serious national housing shortage and sky-rocketing prices, particularly in the major cities. The international student debate highlights the shocking shortcomings of the nation’s approach to housing and the absence of a thoughtful plan for population growth and rapid urbanization.

Bad federal policy is more than matched by poor provincial decisions, particularly in Ontario.  The Liberal and Progressive Conservative administrations in Ontario have underfunded colleges and universities, dramatically so, relative to the other provinces and territories.  Frozen tuition fees only added to institutional fiscal challenges. Several provinces, again led by Ontario, doubled down by authorizing many for-profit private colleges, most operating in league with public universities and colleges, to recruit international students. At the provincial level, the influx of international students, coupled with high tuition fees, masked the deficiencies of provincial funding, leaving underlying financial challenges unaddressed.

Colleges and universities had bad policies of their own.  Without the government funding to meet their salary, administrative and capital costs, post-secondary institutions became addicted to international student fees, the crack cocaine of advanced education.  Dozens of colleges and universities, enrolled thousands of international students, feeding the bottom line but increasing the reliance on international students and high tuition fees.  They assumed, over-optimistically, that the steady flow of international students would never slow, let alone stop. They are now paying the price for that miscalculation.

Some institutions, particularly small institutions in northern and small-town locations, eve established satellite facilities in big cities to capitalize on strong student demand and to supplement small and stagnant enrollments on the home campus. International students and satellite operations were lifelines for institutions that would otherwise be in severe difficulty.

The Government of Canada’s response to the convergence of multiple bad policy streams consists of additional bad policy decisions. International student visas have been slashed by 35% and student-friendly work permit arrangements have been cut back dramatically. Canada’s once wide-open doors for international students have been partially closed.  A carefully cultivated reputation for being receptive to foreign students has been degraded, if not dismantled, in one quick federal move.

The federal policy, announced with seemingly little coordination with provincial authorities and institutions, is a plainly political move, an urgent step taken by a Liberal government reeling in the polls. The decision was released in January 2024, at a key stage in the international student cycle. Colleges, public and private, are vulnerable to dramatic shifts in enrollment and they now face catastrophic losses of income. The implications go much further.  Residences will want for students and employers of the eager international students will struggle to find replacements.  Many college and university faculty and staff, particularly vulnerable short-term and sessional workers, will likely lose their jobs. And the national economy will lose out on a big portion of the billions of dollars spent annually by the international students.

The problem has been years in the making. The government may have been trying to make up for lost time but the hasty federal decision has already had an impact. Colleges and universities are already reporting sharp drops in applications. The message that Canada is no longer friendly for international students is out globally. The damage to student enrollment might be greater than anticipated.

A more appropriate approach would have been to announce a gradual reduction, starting in 2025, giving the colleges and universities time to adjust to a potential fiscal disaster. Another sensible alternative could have been to take aim at the abuse of the student visa system and to ensure those who entered the country under a study permit were actually enrolled in and attending classes. Bad policy often comes from knee-jerk reactions to political processes; good policy takes careful thought and, often, time.

Canada’s large international student recruitment industry brought billions of dollars into the Canadian economy.  Thousands of students worked while they studied and made successful transitions to permanent resident status.  Many people who came to Canada as high fee-paying students have become Canadian citizens and taxpayers.  The students followed the rules, as did the colleges and universities that capitalized on clear and long-standing government policy. The federal and provincial policies may have been poorly designed and inappropriate, but governments set the parameters and expectations and shouldn’t punish others for their shortsightedness.

Bad policy, to be succinct, is no solution for bad policy, but that is what is happening to international student education in Canada.

Ken Coates is a distinguished fellow and director of Indigenous affairs at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute and a professor of Indigenous governance at Yukon University.

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