JANETTE PELLETIER, professor, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education
and director, Dr. Eric Jackman Institute of Child Study
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Young people are faced with an increasingly complex world that places demands on them that are vastly different than even a generation ago: a shrinking and more competitive job market, a longer lifespan, rising university and college admission standards. A 2013 Toronto District School Board study found that 73 per cent of students in grades 9 to 12 are worried about their futures. Has there ever been a greater need for educational innovations that give rise to a child’s creativity, curiosity and ability to change as society throws them one curve after another?
The Jackman Institute of Child Study (J-ICS) at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education is an innovation in itself, based around a three-pronged structure where educational researchers, Master’s students preparing to be teachers, and practising teachers aim to improve on traditional models of how children learn. The focus of their learning and research happens in the Jackman Laboratory School— where 200 children from nursery school to Grade 6 receive an education based on the newest ideas in how to teach and learn.
In helping children to learn, the J-ICS focuses on “knowledge building” and children’s natural curiosity. Rather than give students information, learning here begins with children’s ideas. They share and compare their theories with each other, using computer technology extensively.
The impact from J-ICS innovation isn’t a start-up company or product, but people. Students enter higher education and the workforce having learned to learn through their curiosity, empowering them to handle change better. Student teachers have honed their skills by way of an open environment of experimentation, which they take into the community. And J-ICS researchers use their work in this real-life setting to inform policy-makers and ministries of education.
Pelletier believes in the value of early child development and education and lauds the Ontario government’s establishment of all-day kindergarten. “There is increasing understanding among researchers, policy-makers and the public that investing in early child development is absolutely critical to our future. This support must continue to grow.”
“Children go to school at J-ICS and so do adults. Our Master’s students work with our professors, but their most important work is learning from children."