Tag Archives: Canada

Ontario: Special Education Needs

While controversy continues to swirl around the province’s policy changes to autism services, children who require special education are struggling to get their rightful education. According to a 2014 People for Education report, “half of Ontario’s elementary school principals said they have told students with special needs to stay home from school for all or part of the day”. Students with special needs are often glossed over and are too easily cited as “disruptive” to other students in the traditional learning atmosphere of public schools. Schools are legally required to accommodate a student’s needs, however many schools currently do not have the capacity to provide for special education needs.

A personal report published by the Office of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth revealed that in 2015 “many youth felt shut out by educators who had low expectations of them”. Unfortunately, right now parents’ options for helping their special needs children seems to be dwindling to either homeschooling their child, or enrolling them at an independent special needs school. This is not a feasible solution to the oversight of the public education system. It seems parents are currently carrying the brunt of the responsibility for their child’s special education needs. 

According to OurKids, there are only two independent special needs schools in Mississauga, one of them being Oakwood Academy, the sister school of St. Jude’s Academy. Oakwood Academy is the only recognized school in Canada using the Developmental Individual Differences Relationship-Based (DIR®) model, and offers an individualized education program that is developmentally-based and multi-sensory. Their team of professionals includes Developmental Therapists, Certified Ontario Teachers, Clinical Psychologists, an Occupational Therapist, Speech Language Pathologist and Music Therapist.

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Private Schools, Boys and ADHD

There has been a developing trend in North American education, whereby despite occupying a majority in several specialized programs (like STEM), in a general sense male students are lagging behind their female peers: around 60 per cent of university populations are female, and in school girls perform better than boys on standardized tests. In attempting to explain these developments, researchers are pointing towards two issues that seem diametrically opposed: the misdiagnosis of ADHD in students and the very high rates of ADHD diagnoses for boys.

Some symptoms of ADHD in children include trouble keeping still, excessive daydreaming, difficulty sleeping, and copious activity. In a traditional learning environment—where students are expected to remain seated and focused on a single activity for long periods of time—ADHD is often misdiagnosed as a learning disability in boys when they fail to perform well on assignments. ADHD is not a learning disability, though it does affect learning. On the other side of the coin, there is a proliferation of ADHD diagnoses in boys when in reality most boys are simply kinetic learners (which more and more educators are realizing the need to recognize). Kinesthetic learning provides a constructive outlet for pent-up physical energy by providing a more hands-on learning approach, but it is most often associated with PE class. Research has also shown that concept-based learning—tackling multiple concepts within a lesson instead of maintaining a steady uninterrupted stream of unchanging verbiage—can also maintain a child’s focus and direct their attention.

While the correct diagnosis of medical neurobiological disorders is an issue that falls outside the purview of my authority, I can contribute to the discussion on how private schools are helping both kinetic learners and ADHD students. St. Jude’s Academy specifically is equipped to engage male students who have been perfunctorily labeled as simply “hyperactive” by the public school system: we do not confine our students to desks, we let them move around. Our curriculum is designed to accommodate physical health and it also promotes student interactivity.

Private schools provide individualized learning and possess greater resources to help these students thrive. If any student begins to fall behind, they are not left behind. Thanks to small class sizes or small student-teacher ratios, teachers can come up with and implement a learning style for specific students that will allow them to demonstrate their true potential.

Continue reading Private Schools, Boys and ADHD

Learning From Finland’s School Model

Finland’s one-of-a-kind education system boasts international renown, and its successful school model needs to be replicated by other counties if we want the next generation to carry the world forward into the twenty-first century. Finland’s students routinely rank at the top of the prestigious PISA report (Program for International Student Assessment) for science and math performance. Finnish students also continue their education for longer than most, with a higher average advancing to graduate and professional schools. And the average Finnish student speaks 4 languages by the time they finish “upper secondary education”! But what brought about this success and how can the Ontario Ministry of Education emulate it?

Forty years ago Finland was a poor agrarian country, severely lagging behind other industrialized nations. With a powerful reimagining of its future and a sincere desire to catch up, Finnish leaders devised a complex multi-step program to solve their low GDP: creating education equality. The idea was to provide an advanced education of equal quality to all children in the country in order to bolster the economy. It has certainly been working, thanks to one of many important reasons: the teachers.

Finland has created a culture of deep appreciation and respect for education and its educators, which has helped its agenda enormously. In Finland, educators are highly regarded, and as a vocation teaching receives the same respect and prestige as lawyers and doctors. It also requires the same investment. All teachers, regardless of the grade they teach, have a Master’s Degree and represent the top 10% of students from their graduating year at teacher’s college. Each school classroom has up to 3 teachers on hand to support one-on-one mentoring in the classroom, and teachers are encouraged to practice and try out experimental teaching methods. “Didacticism” is often their motto.

The Finnish school system is clearly successful, and I won’t waste space here reiterating the many statistics which prove it is so. It’s enough to make a person wish they could send their kids to Finland for school. While that’s probably out of the question for obvious financial concerns, what you can consider doing until the Ontario Ministry of Education decides to adopt some of Finland’s excellent practices is to send your child to private school – especially an IB World school with an internationally standardized education.

Right now, this is the best option to compete with the success of Finnish students – academically and career wise. Private schools have guaranteed small class sizes, which helps reconstruct the one-on-one mentor relationship multiple Finnish teachers have created. Teachers at IB World schools have higher qualifications, having undergone additional testing to be certified as IB teachers. Private schools also provide a rigorous and competitive academic learning environment, which emulates the national culture of high regard for education. Finnish schools are famous for having an only 2% dropout rate, and Ontario private schools are known for their high rates of sending their students to top universities: usually with a 100% success rate for graduating classes!  

So until the day you can enrol your child in Finland’s highly enviable education system, look for a Mississauga private school to serve as an excellent substitute!

Have a great weekend.

– A.S.