Tuesday, January 23, 2018

A $50 Million Gift Horse

This is one gift horse that needs its teeth examined!
Here is my letter to the Minister of Innovation regarding the recent CanCODE announcement of $50 million for coding...

Dear Minister,

Although I am delighted to see that you have dedicated funds to teaching coding in our schools, I am troubled by the model that has been chosen.
First and foremost, the reliance on optional participation via third-party providers continues an existing situation which is basically inequitable.

In my professional reading, several times in the last five years or so I have noted a round of observations and comments on:
·      Not enough young women in technology,
·      Not enough computer science (CS) teachers in Ontario,
·      Most teachers’ colleges are no longer training CS teachers,
·      Teacher candidates are not choosing CS as a teachable.
·      High school CS and engineering courses are not offered province wide.

Your program does not address most of the above root problems, which are fundamental to building computer programming knowledge and capacity in Ontario and Canada over the long term.

Meanwhile (dates and numbers on employee shortages seem to vary a bit), by 2019 or 2020, there will be 180,000 or 200,000 technology jobs going unfilled in Canada due to a lack of qualified workers. Not to mention many times that south of the border.

In my job as a TELT Contact (Technology Enabled Learning and Teaching), I work in many different schools. So, my comments are really just based on our board. But I imagine they apply to other locations in Ontario and Canada.
·      In perhaps half of our schools, classes will participate in Hour of Code as a one-time event.
·      A handful of teachers are integrating coding by participating in The Learning Partnership’s Coding Trek and Coding Quest.
·      A number of schools and local community groups are involved with First Lego League, but fewer than half.
·      In terms of pedagogical discussion, most teachers have not had any training in coding and/or computational thinking and/or curriculum integration.
·      As a result, most teachers are not confident in bringing coding into their programs.
·      Most would not be aware of existing ministry of education or third-party resources.

I believe our board’s small educational technology team has been very pro-active, responding to requests and enthusiastically promoting coding opportunities as they arise. However, it troubles me that in Ontario in 2018:
·      A student’s access to this learning is unstructured and completely tied to the private/personal initiative of specific teachers (or schools or boards).
·      There is no continuum of study for students who wish to grow over the course of 12 years in our schools.
·      Third-party providers are doing the vast majority of training, at the request or initiative of specific teachers, schools or boards (eg. Fair Choice, The Learning Partnership, First Lego, Logics Academy), because there is no formal path forward for training and supporting our existing teachers.
·      The ministry of education has some resources but they are not widely known.

Instead, I think it is time to see these skills embedded in a systemic way in our provincial and national education world.

Otherwise, it becomes an issue of equity. A student has to have the good fortune of attending a class, or school or board, that contracts for this type of learning. Or be located where these organizations are active. If either of these conditions are not present, the student loses out.

As well, I don’t think you can begin to compare the benefits and outcomes of the following two scenarios:
a)    A student and/or teacher participates in Hour of Code and attends several coding or robotics workshops. Once a year, a unit of math or science involves these skills.
b)    A student and/or teacher is able to integrate coding and robotics into a wide range of course content in elementary, and also has access to CS and engineering courses in high school.
Personally, I believe that only option B is acceptable in this day and age.

To simply allocate millions of dollars to this same third-party model seems like a missed opportunity to me. I had been hoping for an approach that fully integrated teacher training and support with the existing Ontario curriculum, which offers so many opportunities to do this. And why not take advantage of the network of ongoing programs in TELO (Technology Enabled Learning Ontario) and other branches of the Ontario ministry of education that are already interested in these matters and committed to supporting us with innovation, technology and pedagogy initiatives?

I also feel that the reliance on third-party providers is insulting to teachers. It implies that the current cohort of educators is unable to carry out this work, with training and support. This sure is a lot of money going to the private sector to, in essence, take over a huge and vitally important area of 21st century teaching. Further, it perpetuates the myth that only “experts” can code or teach coding. This could not be further from the truth. We need a confident, forward-thinking cohort of teachers, and by that, I mean all of them. It is literally the future of our province and our country.

By coincidence, I wrote a blog post about this last week: anneshillolo.blogspot.com. Unfortunately, today’s announcement does not resolve most of my concerns.

I am wondering if in the implementation of this program, you can create formal links with the provincial ministries of education that will more effectively and equitably engage our schools in this endeavour?

Anne Shillolo

PS Please note that the views expressed in this email are mine, and don’t reflect those of my employer.

And a further question to Ontario Education Minister Indira Naidoo-Harris:

I am wondering if it is possible for your ministry to leverage aspects of the implementation of this program, creating links with the federal program and their service-providers that will more effectively and equitably engage our schools in this endeavour?