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Beyond the Books: Ontario's Education System Grapples with Overemphasis on Grades and the Neglect of Essential Life Lessons

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Grade-Centric Education Stifles Student Success and Health

In a post-pandemic world, students are seeing more stress and mental health problems than known in prior years. Students are experiencing more pressure from peers, teachers, and family to perform as well as they can in an economy that’s increasingly becoming uncertain for young people. Performing well in school has therefore become the most important thing to students in order to achieve success.

Unfortunately, this addiction to high achievement has resulted in new forms of unprecedented pressure for students to achieve grades as high as possible in order to apply to some of the most competitive post-secondary programs in the country. Due to Ontario’s high-quality education (even when compared to other provinces), students are impeccably expected to perform well for their futures.

As a result of this immense pressure, teachers, students, and school staff have caused a recent rise in the average grades of students; also known as grade inflation. Grade inflation stipulates that the average grade of Ontario students are increasing based on rates that are above historic trends. The stipulation goes that the pandemic saw teachers provide favourable grade treatments to students due to a policy handed by the Ministry of Education. Essentially, the Ministry wanted to ensure that students' grades wouldn’t suffer as a result of the pandemic and issued a call for schools to ensure student grades wouldn’t slip below contemporary levels. 

The result caused grades to be inflated and universities to scour for student acceptances. However, even in post-pandemic Ontario, grades are still rising faster than historical trends. The advent of AI and internet access in schools has also resulted in students using technology to undermine the very crux of education. Technology has made education obsolete; why truly learn anything if technology can give you an answer within a few seconds? At a time when students are feeling pressure to achieve higher grades for Ontario’s highly competitive post-secondary programs, technology becomes an easy avenue to circumvent ethical learning. 

But it isn’t the fault of students, students are merely adapting to the environment around them. The Ministry of Education in charge of the province’s curricula is at fault for not predicting and accounting for current grade desperation. Combine the Ministry’s shortcomings with forthcoming parents pressuring their children to perform for “a better life”l, you’re setting up children for disaster. Children should indeed learn and be competitive, but the importance of developing children to be unique individuals rather than simply grade sheep is even more important. Children are a canvas, they can learn anything and everything. But that canvas is being tainted by a particular vision the Ministry and parents want to see, the canvas should be drawn by the child not anybody else around them. The only responsibility teachers and parents have is to guide children in a positive manner toward what the children themselves want. 

According to reporting from the Toronto Star, the University of Waterloo’s engineering programs use an adjustment factor to differentiate grades from different high schools. In other words, this adjustment factor is a tool to essentially assess whether a student’s grades are indeed worth the programs at Waterloo. And although a student at one school may score overall higher than a student at another school, that doesn’t necessarily mean the score of one student will be guaranteed worth more than another. The university argues that this adjustment tool is one of the many factors they use for admissions, the university says the tool has some value but isn’t a primary factor in student assessment. 

In either case, the adjustment tool is an admission by our post-secondary institutions that grade inflation exists and is effective enough to account for. According to TheStar’s reporting, the institution even ranks schools in a list based on what high schools are more prone to inflationary grades. The list determines 27 schools to be favourable to student grades out of a list of 62 schools. The university finds that the students of these 27 schools see the largest drop in their grades upon entering university. 

As a result, students victim to grade inflation will disproportionately experience a harder jump in difficulty compared to students who experienced a more difficult high school education. Thus, students should rightly be concerned about difficulty transitions as they achieve higher education. 

Admission Challenges and Learning Struggles: The Post-Secondary Pitfall  

In an ideal world, post-secondary education is a time when young adults try to figure out what to do with their lives. Unfortunately, the need for students to pay tuition fees for achieving higher education inadvertently puts the wrong type of pressure on them. Young people should go to university to explore life, learn, and make lasting friendships with like-minded people. A time that people should cherish as a true transition period in their lives. Instead, post-secondary education has become this blitz of courses and programs to finish as fast as possible in order to carry our awarded degrees into the job market. In other words, the current state of post-secondary is a shell of what it ought to be. 

But the shortfallings of post-secondary education don’t start during entry, it’s long before when students are still in secondary school that they internalize expectations about post-secondary life. From entry into high school, students are taught by their peers, teachers, and families that students must perform exceptionally, take only the ‘high-level academic’ courses, and participate in extracurriculars to have a shot at post-secondary admissions. Students become insecure about their grades, they become insecure about going to school; where every day is a challenge to perform better than the previous day. 

Immediately upon entering the 12th grade, students then experience academic difficulty jump whilst balancing their high grades, extracurriculars, volunteering, and jobs. At the same time, admissions for post-secondary programs open where students in the 10s of thousands all compete for a spot in Canada’s top university programs. Students decide on the programs they feel will best heighten their shot at becoming successful in life, and - unbeknownst to their own actions - become the same cogs in society that those children once spurned in their childhoods.

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