From coast to coast to coast, our country is struggling with its public education system. Nowhere is this more pronounced than in Quebec where dropout rates continue to soar above the national average. As an educator and a journalist, I often find myself at the heart of discussions about how to improve things. And each time I am amazed at the glaring absence of one important stakeholder group—the students. Why are we not asking our students how to improve their schools?
This article is the product of a group of students at Options I High School in Montreal, Quebec. Options I is an alternative school which caters to students who, for a variety of reasons, were not successful in a mainstream high school. So who better to ask than these very students, where to begin when it comes to improving public education? Some of their opinions may not surprise you; then again, they might!
Schools should not require students to ‘know’ a certain amount of stuff in a certain amount of time. The course programs should work around the student’s level of learning to ensure that everyone is being properly challenged. – Corina Ward
High school requires too many courses to graduate, for example, music, art, dance, drama, etc. Make them optional! For some students the basics are hard enough. We have jobs and other things too. There should be programs for students who just want the basics and to get a diploma. Keep it simple! – M.M.
Schools need more hands-on work. We need to really study the object in question, not just theory all the time. Also, we should be rewarded for our efforts. It’s not all about grades … where is the formal recognition of our efforts? – Jennessa Elizabeth Leveille
I think school would be a lot better if we started a little later. There are a lot of teenagers who just cannot get up in the morning and so we end up late for school and then get punished. Have school start a couple hours later and go a couple hours later in the afternoon. A lot of people might not like this but it will make school much easier. – Kim Yeong-Ung
I think students should be allowed to record their class lectures because sometimes the notes we take down just don’t do it. Also, some students learn better by hearing rather than writing. I think you would see an amazing improvement in the grades. – David Swei
Physical education needs to change. There is too much focus on sports and not enough on health and fitness. We think weight training and exercises like push-ups and squats and crunches would be great. Learning to exercise is a lesson for life! – Premesh Ramachandran & Mitchel Mizrachi
We think the school week should be shortened to four days. We don’t have enough time to ourselves. We also get homework which takes up the time we do have. Let’s work a little longer on the four days we are in school and have Mondays off. We think we speak for every student in Canada on this one… – D.O. & Tamla Murray
I think it would be beneficial for students to teach students. Maybe for 20 minutes a day or something. Let’s learn more from each other and a little less from the teacher. We think this would make other students feel a bit more comfortable knowing they’re on the same level and stuff. It would also give teachers a break. Sometimes students just have a different way of looking at things. Students teaching students; there’s an idea! – Leslie Roboz & Lauren Ward
“School cafeterias, are, for the most part, too unhealthy and unpleasant. We need more choices, especially for vegetarians and other people with special diets. A good lunch can go a long way you know! – John Martelly & Austin Teodori-Clarke
I think there should be more homework programs in school. We need to get the extra help in school so that we won’t have to worry about homework at home. Many kids have jobs or chores. We also need free time. We need to rethink the whole idea of ‘homework.’– Melissa Richmond
Too many classes happen indoors! Being outside is a good thing. Many of the things we learn about are actually outside anyway. The natural environment is inspiring! More classes outside please. – Georgia Mintis
Smaller classes. We need smaller classes. So much more could be done in school if students cooperated and listened. This is hard when there are too many students in a class. Smaller classes would help a lot. – Diego Galluci
I find some teachers have a lack of interest in students. If you love to teach go with it but if you don’t please take another trade, don’t make us suffer. – Jenigh Floyd-Gibson & Hussain Kenaan
When students don’t know something teachers need to be more compassionate. Teachers should be straight up, treat us with respect. I think schools are too hypocritical. Sometimes it is the teacher who is the bully. – S.H.
As part of the Options for Change project, students at Options I will be reading from this article on CBC’s Radio Noon. Radio Noon, hosted by the award-winning Bernard St-Laurent, is heard across the province of Quebec, live, Monday to Friday between 12:00 pm and 1:00 pm on CBC Radio One.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Michael Ernest Sweet
Michael Ernest Sweet writes, teaches and takes photos in Montreal, Quebec. He is the author and editor of more than a dozen books including his new collection of poetry, “Lucky Bastard.” Michael divides his time between Montreal and New York City and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
This article is from Canadian Teacher Magazine’s Nov/Dec 2011 issue.