The Auditor General for the province has certainly been in the news lately and pulling back the curtain on provincial spending and other issues. There was a big kickback from her thoughts about how the government responded to COVID but that’s not the point here.
The point here is that she’s identified the sad state of textbooks and other curriculum related items that are use in Ontario classrooms.
Schools districts and principals don’t have a blank cheque when it comes to buying teaching and learning resources and often have to prioritize what gets purchased and what gets left for a future year. As a Business Education Department Head, I can recall department head meetings where our principal would ask us to come with our needs and rationales and then indicate that he had X number of dollars and we had to collaborate on replacements for the good of the entire school. It was never easy and mathematics and languages always seemed to go to the top of the list. It was difficult to argue against since they are required courses and have the biggest impact on the student population.
Textbooks are not cheap. A class set of textbooks is not cheap. Class sets for the entire student population for a particular grade or course is definitely not cheap. It’s easy to blame publishing companies but they have to pay authors, representatives, designers, buy the materials, print, distribute, etc.
It’s not difficult to visualize the problem that exists. Particularly in an area like Computer Science, it never seemed to rise to the level that was needed for new books. Actually, that’s not right. It would have been the first set of books in my case. Consequently, I created whatever might pass as a textbook on the fly. We did have subject councils within the district that would meet periodically and it was somewhat comforting to know that I wasn’t along. What was even better was our decision to bring personally created resources and share them with others. It was nice to leave a meeting with new ideas.
Barring a huge infusion of money to buy the resources for every school in the province, you can easily see (and teachers will readily admit) that it is easy to fall behind. Then, just when you see a little light, the curriculum changes. What comes first – the curriculum or the textbook?
In the meantime, there are still days and resources devoted to rebinding books at the end of the school year!
Ontario has had experience at a better way of looking at province-wide resources. In the software field, OSAPAC has licensed software for the entire province and has been doing it for a long time. As long as you met the conditions, the government licensed the software and you had access to them with no extra fees.
OSAPAC/CCPALO transforms learning and teaching by strategically developing, promoting and licensing digital resources that enable deeper learning for all through communicating, collaborating, modelling and sharing what complex learning looks, sounds and feels like in a technology enabled learning environment.From the OSAPAC.ca website
I was a member of this committee for a number of years and we recommended the licensing of a number of notable titles which can be found at this site. We really felt that we were doing something that would benefit every student in the province. Ivan Strachan from the committee and I would partner at the annual ECOO Conference for a session we called “Freshly Minted Software” to do quick demos of what was licensed in previous year.
It’s sad but there hasn’t been anything noted from OSAPAC for a long time. I think they had developed the right model for their time and it could be expanded for the future.
But, does that future need to be limited to computer software? I don’t think so. Those publishers are doing things digitally anyway; it wouldn’t take a big leap to move those resources online and restrict access to Ontario schools. One of the advantages from the effects of COVID is a more computer literate population. School districts are buying computers and tablets at rates never seen before. It seems to me that you could move to a different model for textbooks, distribution and there’s a literate group ready to embrace it.
Imagine a world where you have the best of the best resources produced and updated annually. Think beyond simply moving static pages to the web. Think of online interactive exercises, manipulatives where every school has access to them, presentations and lesson plans ready to be customized and used, currected content, and that contented updated regularly as the world changes. No more making that set of textbooks last another year!
Another benefit is that this would allow school districts and the government to finally get serious about fixing the digital divides that still remain. Every student would need access to technology and usable internet connections.
We hear so often about “21st Century Schools”. How many years has it been since we entered the 21st Century?
Isn’t it time that we upped our approach? A problem has been identified; just buying more of the same and using it the same way doesn’t make the substantive change that all areas of society have had to embrace. Maybe it’s time for education to get serious about it as well.