Thursday, August 26, 2010

Ontario Schools....political ostriches?

Simcoe County parents, in the Barrie/Orillia area of Ontario are complaining to their school board officials that, since the board adopted wireless internet applications in their schools, students have been complaining about headaches, memory loss and various other physical ailments which they experience during the week, while in school, but do not experience on weekends when they are away from school. The parents claim that board officials do not even respond to their petitions for an audience.
Some researchers indicate that students are susceptible to radiation from wireless connectivity, and recommend returning to the wired portal system of internet connectivity.
In a recent story in the Toronto Star, one Ontario Ministry of Education official was quoted as recommending that local area boards and schools should be dealing with this issue. However, it is the province itself that has money for research into such issues that could be affecting students across the province. In fact, Lakehead University has banned wireless internet in the Thunder Bay campus and their Orillia campus until more research can be done to determine the relationship between wireless and its impact on students.
The Ministry of Education has, on another front, taken a stand on late assignments, granting the right to assign a zero for late assignments to teachers, in an attempt to standardize provincial practice.
It seems passing strange that a provincial government would have to step in to make a ruling on such a matter. When I had the privilege of teaching in Ontario public and private schools, for two decades plus, I faced the issue of late assignments daily. One simple approach was to deduct 5% for the first two days, 10% for the next three days, and then assign a zero.
However, I do not concur with the "zero intolerance" approach, since there is no attempt to work with the student in coming to a place where the student realizes s/he is penalizing himself by not attending to assignments.
However, when the students explained specific circumstances in their lives, I would even waive the late penalty, because I believed their story, and accepted the late assignment.
Schools are very complex organizations with many stakeholders representing various groups and their respective interests. Political considerations have far too much impact on decisions affecting students, including the "preservation of the public face" of the board officials. While they are not elected, superintendents and directors are the most politically sensitive jobs in the system. They report to the elected boards, and answer to the public media, and supervise their own appointees in the principalships, and vice-principalships.
I recall the words of one director who told his principals, "Deal with the problems in your school; don't let them come to my office!" as his way of saying, when they got to his office, those same principals might not like the results, because now the problem had become public, and had become part of the "dirty laundry" the board had to address. On the minor issues, he was probably wise; yet on the larger issues, leadership is required.
And the Ministry has a fundamental role in establishing the implementation of sound judgement in the practitioners in the field, both in demonstrating effective listening to all constituents, and in providing effective and credible processes for action, even if that includes additional research, and the suspension of a "wireless" policy until such research can be conducted, by objective, non-industry-funded laboratories.

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