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Photo by Peter Stockland
One of the greatest challenges in determining the impact of a child’s school education is the simple fact that schooling is also connected to the impact of parents on their children and, in some cases, the church.
That was a key message delivered by Ray Pennings at a group forum called Mind the Gap, hosted recently at Cardus Ottawa headquarters as part of an education program study.
Pennings, the think tank’s executive vice-president, and his Cardus Education Program team gave a sneak preview of survey data involving 29 factors with specific questions about the influences that may alter a child’s development. The survey work was initially done in partnership with Notre Dame University.
The core research sought to answer whether there is a school-sector effect that can be measured by particular focus on academic achievement, civic engagement and spiritual formation. To spark discussion, Cardus invited 24 participants from various educational and religious perspectives to examine the unpublished data.
Pennings asked those present to think of two groups, each formed of 100 five-year-olds, where each group is statistically speaking identical across these 29 factors, then interview them when they’re between 23 and 39.
“Basically, surmise that if there are statistically significant differences between the aggregates of these two groups of children as adults, it is reasonable to believe that schooling has something to do with it,” he said.
“We realize correlation is not causation. We’re not claiming school did all of this, but there is something that is statistically difficult to explain in any other way,” he added.
His comments prompted opposing views on the ways education may relate to a child’s upbringing, along with discussion exploring the various influences taken into consideration for the study. The free-range exchange, pro and con, was exactly what the Cardus VP and his team hoped for in advance of the event.
“We thought it would be very good to get beyond the numbers, to pull some people into the room and to help us understand this,” he said. “We come with perspective on all of this, but we’re not simply here to try and have our own assumptions reconfirmed. What we want to do is have a dialogue.”
A clear take away from the discussion, Pennings said, is that pluralism is necessary in the structure of education.
“I think there was... recognition that in a diverse society like Canada, educational choice is essential. There is no one-size-fits-all. To think the public system is going to be able to match all those needs, that probably isn’t realistic.”
The survey data, as well as the takeaways from the event itself, fit into other metrics from related Cardus Education studies underway involving parents, independent schools and other ranges of data that the team is seeking to understand.
“This certainly is a piece that informs the conversation as to what’s next,” Pennings said.
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