Skip to content
Join our Newsletter
Join our Newsletter

Monique Keiran: Education pendulum has swung too far

Those of us who grew up in the last century heard all about how easy we had it. The tirade usually began, “When I was your age ...” and continued with the Facts of Life. These included: “I had to be up at 3 a.m. to get to school on time.

Those of us who grew up in the last century heard all about how easy we had it.

The tirade usually began, “When I was your age ...” and continued with the Facts of Life.

These included:

“I had to be up at 3 a.m. to get to school on time. And that was after staying up until 4 a.m. to finish my after-school chores and homework.”

“I had to walk 12 miles to school everyday … through blizzards … uphill. Both ways!”

“We had only one pair of shoes for all of us kids. Every day, two of us got to wear one shoe.”

These days, the good-ol’–bad-ol’-days script reads like: “When I was your age ...

“The whole family had to share just one telephone line.”

“We had to write our essays out BY HAND! If we made a mistake, we had to write that page out BY HAND ALL OVER AGAIN.”

“We had to identify all the continents and oceans on a map just to pass Grade 5.”

Memorial University professor Judith Adler reported this month that most students who start her first-year sociology course are unable to identify the world’s continents or oceans on a map. (Memorial University is in Saint John’s, the capital city of Newfoundland, an island off Canada’s east coast, which is way, way, WAY east of Vancouver. Beyond Hope.)

Adler considers that information to be Grade 5-level knowledge.

Educational requirements and expectations ain’t what they used to be.

Of course not. The Internet and smartphone technology have fundamentally changed how we learn, memorize and process information.

However, a retired elementary-school principal tells me current basement-level requirements predate the Internet’s rise to world dominance. Through the 1980s and ’90s, a cultural shift occurred in upper-case Education. Those who determined educational policy and those who taught teachers how to teach moved the process of teaching away from rote learning and memorization toward information-processing and problem-solving.

Both are worthwhile skills, and necessary for critical thinking.

The pendulum’s swing was so extreme, however, says the once-upon-a-principal, it consigned basic geography, math, spelling and other foundation-type subjects to educational Siberia. (Siberia is a remote region of Russia that comprises most of north Asia.)

As a student, you no longer had to fear your teacher suddenly calling out “9x7” and pointing at you for an instantaneous, correct answer (63). You no longer had to dread her pointing at a region on a map and asking you to recite the country’s name, capital city and main exports.

Today, you just look up the information on your smartphone or use an app to work out the more difficult tasks — like, um … calculations and stuff.

I’ve heard that standards in higher education have also fallen since I got my degree some time after the arrival of Jacques Cartier (NOT the jeweller) in North America and before Barack Obama was elected U.S. president (look it up).

Many friends tell me they’re both appalled and delighted at how little work they’ve had to do to pass university-level courses.

And one friend, who works for a B.C. university, advises, “If you want higher grades, get your mother to call the instructors to complain.”

How disturbing.

And how ironic.

This January, the province established new regulations for B.C.-certified overseas schools. Some of the schools had been inflating grades so the students would qualify for North American universities.

I’m sure many parents applied pressure then.

I can imagine what my mother would say if I ever asked her to harass my instructors for higher grades.

“You want me to do WHAT? When I was your age ...”