Tuesday, June 16, 2009
Alberta boasts one of Canada’s most highly educated populations, and its students consistently achieve above-average results not only in Canada but also on the world stage. Students perform particularly well in science and math, but rank in the top five across all subject matters when compared internationally.
The province spends over $6 billion annually to fund its universal public education system and has recently developed a new framework to help the 67,000 students identified as having special education needs. This initiative seeks to have one inclusive education system that “focuses on strengths instead of deficiencies, giving all students the opportunity to excel and maximize their personal potential, regardless of their school or educational program,” says Education Minister Dave Hancock.
Alberta’s high-school completion rate hovers just under 80 per cent. One factor keeping that number from being higher is the availability of jobs in the oil and gas sectors that don’t require highschool diplomas. To combat this, Alberta has spent an additional $8 million on outreach programs in areas particularly affected by this phenomenon.
Following a 2004 resolution to decrease student-teacher ratios, Alberta Education has also made improvements to class sizes. In most areas (kindergarten through Grade 3 excepted), ratios are below suggested guidelines. As well, Alberta has been trying to build schools in a timelier manner via the P3 New Schools Project. this “Public-Private, Partnership” has garnered mixed reaction, but is scheduled to provide 32 new schools in Alberta by September 2012, providing much-needed relief for school systems straining under the population boom of recent years.
Learning the Basics
Standard education begins around age five, starting with kindergarten, progressing through Grades 1 to 12, and finishing with high-school graduation. this system includes province-wide standardized testing, including achievement tests in core subjects in Grades 3, 6 and 9, and diploma exams in Grade 12.
The whole of the province is covered administratively by public school boards with many areas also offering separate school boards, the key difference being that separate school boards generally offer religion-based education. Alberta Education (education.alberta.ca) oversees both board types.
In addition, francophone education is offered wherever student numbers and funding make it practical – in calgary and edmonton, for example. In total, there are 2,117 schools and 319 governing authorities, which are comprised of a mix of public, separate, francophone, charter and private schools. the public and separate schools receive the bulk of funding and parents can send their children to these schools at a very low cost, or for free, depending on their income. homeowners in the area can choose which system they support with their taxes.
the province features some creative schooling options to handle special situations, including home schooling, online schools, and outreach programs. In addition, charter public schools – part of the public system and provincially funded – are designed to offer enhanced or innovative education.
Private schools are also available in alberta, falling into two categories: accredited and registered. accredited schools follow the alberta Program of Studies, so their students earn credits toward alberta Grade 12 graduation. registered schools, on the other hand, don’t have to follow the alberta program, so their students don’t earn graduation credits. both types may charge tuition and other fees.
over two dozen post-secondary institutions, including universities, public colleges and technical institutes, call alberta home. the provincial government (advancededucation.gov.ab.ca) has recently increased funding assistance for post-secondary education, with increases for tuition fees – which vary between colleges and universities, but generally average $5,000 per year – currently limited to inflation rates. a variety of student assistance programs are available, including loans, grants, scholarships and bursaries from both government and private organizations.
the province is making apprenticeship trades and industry training a priority (see tradesecrets.gov.ab.ca). this includes apprenticeship programs, along with recognizing work experience and trades certifications from other provinces through the Interprovincial Standards (red Seal; red-seal.ca) program. In September, calgary hosted WorldSkills 2009, a competition showcasing excellence in skilled trades for kids 17 to 21 and featuring over 900 competitors from 49 countries. MTA