Source: Journal of Education for Teaching, Volume 40, No. 5, p. 588-599. 2014
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)
This article investigates a number of enduring and emerging themes reflecting teacher education in Canada over the past 40 years, including changes in information and communication technology, bridging gaps in theory and practice, English as a second language, French immersion and multicultural teacher development.
The author describes the major changes and reforms that have shaped the past four decades of teacher education in Canada through the lens of a teacher educator.
First, the author describes the historical background for this period and take a closer look at teacher education at OISE/UT.
In the early 1970s, Pierre Trudeau’s Liberal government initiated far-reaching reforms to ensure that Canada would fully embrace multiculturalism and to honour the cultural heritage of English, French and Native Peoples. These policies culminated in the 1982 Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The 1960s and 1970s also saw an expansion of universities in Canada (nearly all are public institutions) as the Liberal government put a high priority on education. While the UT is one of the oldest and most prestigious educational institutions in Canada, OISE is a relative newcomer. The Faculty of Education at the University of Toronto (FEUT) was founded in 1906 to provide teacher education, following a Royal Commission report. Created in 1965, OISE was an independent graduate studies institution that quickly gained a national and international reputation as a leader in educational research
In 1996, OISE merged with the UT to create OISE/UT. Key administrators in each institution believed that affiliation with the other would add prestige to the profile of their institution, while simultaneously being financially helpful.
Following the 1996 merger, the BEd was assigned to the Curriculum Department of OISE/UT, creating an enormous bulge of students, courses, faculty and personnel, like a python that had swallowed something that was taking a long time to digest. Eventually, ITE as a department was created and the BEd was housed there. The move for a two-year programme was primarily a pragmatic rather than an ideological one on the part of the government, strongly propelled by the government’s intent to correct the (un)employment imbalance of having a surplus of teachers across Ontario, particularly noticeable in Toronto and the Greater Toronto Area.
Indeed, one of the profound changes over the last 40 years has been how curriculum, teaching and learning have evolved to incorporate technology. A great deal has changed in the past 40 years and teachers have had to incorporate incredible changes in their teaching. Teachers must cope with rapid technological and social changes, in order to do their jobs effectively.
Furthermore, the author also refers to his practicum, since the practicum is an effective bridge between what is studied in university and what goes on in classrooms.
During the practicum, the author was given very little guidance from his sponsor teacher and he rarely saw his faculty advisor. Moreover, he was not given any feedback until the very end of the practicum, when he was told what he had been doing wrong and which areas needed to be further improved as he began his teaching career. Essentially, his pre-service teacher education, while progressive and informative, did not adequately prepare him for the many and varied challenges of teaching high school students. Nevertheless, his extended practicum experience, as the most important part of his teacher education, and a bridge between theory and practice, became a seminal part of his learning to teach at this critical time. This is something that many other teachers agree upon. Calls for a radical new and effective pedagogy in which theory and practice are linked effectively have been made for years.
In addition, multicultural teacher development, ESL and French immersion French immersion has long been a hallmark of Canadian schools. It remains a popular choice for many students across Canada. In the 1970s and 1980s, French was only offered as a subject of study in high school. Students were required to take at least four years of French in order to go to university. These days, French is also studied from elementary school in BC schools, with noteworthy improvements in students’ French. Today, while French is a popular choice, there are various other foreign languages offered at many Canadian high schools including Chinese, Japanese, German, Punjabi, Spanish and other modern languages. Students can now graduate with several years of French in addition to another foreign language. This is very important in providing a solid foundation for global citizenship education.
The UBC has a long-standing tradition of second-language learning and multicultural education. Thus, it would appear that UBC is preparing teachers for jobs in the international marketplace. Multicultural celebrations of ethnic diversity had to make way for anti-racist education programmes to deal with mostly white communities becoming increasingly dominated by waves of Indo-Canadians or Chinese immigrants. Canada’s major urban centres like Vancouver are becoming increasingly diverse. Toronto is home to more immigrants than any other city in Canada. It is among the world’s most ethnically diverse populations. Thus, OISE and other Canadian institutions have responded with teacher education programmes that address human rights, global citizenship, social justice, equity, race, ethnicity and multiculturalism directly. Currently, of the five elementary cohorts within the BEd programme at OISE/UT, one offers teacher candidates the opportunity to focus on aboriginal education and another highlights social and ecojustice issues in education.
Systemic changes in society and meaningful education reform take time. While the core of teacher education programmes in Canada remain relatively unchanged over the past four decades, a great deal has changed in recent years. Moreover, with a revolving door of politicians at the helm and frequent changes in political climates, more changes are always right around the corner.
The author concludes that Ontario teachers have a better salary and a more supportive government but they too have experienced tough times. With shrinking budgets and increasing numbers of ESL students and those with special needs, teachers nowadays have more challenges than ever before. Furthermore, teachers are under increasing pressure to make do with less while achieving more. Neoliberal and neoconservative governments in BC, Ontario and elsewhere are pushing for higher standards, stricter assessments and greater teacher accountability, in a race to the top. These days, teacher morale and working conditions in schools continue to be issues of concern.