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This past week, the Federal Government laid out some important measures to help post-secondary students find greater success transitioning from their studies to the workforce.

Budget 2019 emphasized work placement opportunities, giving students in fields outside of STEM—such as the arts, humanities and social sciences— a chance to access funding to support their growth and development. The Government will invest 631.2 million over five years, starting in 2019–20, to support up to 20,000 new work placements per year for post-secondary students across Canada, in all disciplines, by 2021–22.

Furthermore, an additional $150.0 million will be invested over four years to create partnerships with innovative businesses, adding a further 20,000 work-integrated learning opportunities per year. By 2023, this will total 40,000 work placements.

Recently, the Manitoba Government launched a new Commission that will take a deep look into the operations of our education system with a look-ahead to the future. The government is right to put a focus on the transition from secondary, to post-secondary, and ultimately, the workforce. As Commission Co-Chair Clayton Manness stated in the press release, “ we will consider the continuum of early learning, post-secondary education and labour market needs,”

This all has the potential to be welcomed news for students. Here in Winnipeg, the country’s only two Met Schools are already providing many of the experiences that the federal government hopes to give post-secondary students through these programs.

This announcement in Budget 2019, as well as the provincial government’s commission, should serve as an opening for dialogue between the federal and provincial governments on how to support student development beginning at the secondary level through to their entry into the workforce.

Many of the benefits of these investments and frameworks were highlighted by Elliot Washor, co-founder of Big Picture Learning last week while visiting Winnipeg from San Diego for the 10th anniversary of the Seven Oaks Met School. Washor touched on a variety of important points during his trip, but there were some key principles to which he frequently returns, believing them to be at the core of best practices in education. They include: fostering curiosity, allowing for choice, and expanding upon our traditional measurements of success.

The Big Picture Learning Mantra is one student at a time. Tuesday and Thursday are reserved for internships at work placements in the community. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday are spent in class, with a focus on project-based learning. Students get an education in an authentic way that is tailored to, and driven by, their needs and interests. Relationships, Relevance and Rigor serve as the foundational principles of this educational experience.

As baby boomers retire and a new generation of learners gets set to tackle contemporary challenges, the time is right for a refocusing of the relationship between schools and industry. At the Met, we don’t believe that high school is a finish line; we see it as a launching pad. One of the best things we can do to foster curiosity and skill development is to expose young people to what’s happening out in the “real world” earlier on in their journey, and to strive to create a meaningful experience that centres around their passions and interests.

In his widely revered book Experience and Education, John Dewey, the great educational philosopher, laid out the critically important role that experience must play in the healthy development of a young person.  The experience continuum is the process by which we learn and grow from experience, and our future interactions with the world are shaped by those experiences that come before. A crucial part of development is being afforded the opportunity to explore and discover.

Conditions that allow curiosity and choice to flourish must be present in our schools. To fully incorporate these approaches to education in our systems, we must emphasize resilience, problem solving, entrepreneurship, collaboration, kindness, self-direction, and community-mindedness. These elements of the human experience are essential in helping young people navigate a rapidly evolving world. We must focus our attention on these qualities in fostering and assessing the growth and development of students.

At the Met schools, students determine what they want to explore. As educators, it is our role to facilitate learning experiences, but we take our lead from the students themselves. The ability to have agency over one’s own experiences is necessary in the learning process. The greater flexibility one has to choose, the more meaningful the experience, and the deeper the experiences that follow.

Healthy relationships with people who understand you are also a key component of the educational experience. In a longitudinal study spanning over 15 years, Washor and colleagues found that 58%-62% of Met graduates around the world found a job in a field related to an internship experience. This tells us something important. Washor frequently says that “who knows that you know what you know” is one of the keys to future fulfilment and success. The federal government’s investments in post-secondary education help to underscore this point.

It is important for schools such as ours to serve as an intermediary between the student, the community, the mentors, and the experience. The more our experiences in school can provide transformational and not merely transactional interactions, the stronger and healthier we are.

In short, we need to be intentional about the environment within which our students are learning. We as educators must help facilitate experiences that allow risk-taking to occur, and foster environments that allow for curiosity to blossom. Students need to feel comfortable with vulnerability. As Wayne Gretzky said, you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.

The time is right for governments across the country, at all levels, to be talking about the most useful and effective ways to prepare students for a future that will change more rapidly than at any point before in human history.

At an education conference, we were asked to reflect on what outcomes we are seeking in our day-to-day interactions with young people. What do we hope they will feel when they leave a conversation with us? For me, the answer was that I hope they feel curious. I hope they feel the need to question.

Ben Carr is Principal of the Maples Met School in Winnipeg. 

The views, opinions and analyses expressed in the articles on National Newswatch are those of the contributor(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the publishers.
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