No Curriculum?? No Grades?? No Transcripts?? But HOW will your children ever get into College/University?

When I first began my journey as an “unschooling” mother I was met with endless questions by countless people. Won’t you get sick of being with your kids all day? Don’t you have to be a teacher to teach your kids at home? What about socialization? How will your kids ever get into college or university without report cards or transcripts?

For the record, I happen to have well-informed answers to all of the above, and I am more than happy to share anytime, however, it is the last question which has plagued me the most lately. Perhaps, I loathe it so, because we have begun writing the blue print for We Learn Naturally’snew project-based learning school, The Barn School (2017) and we will not be offering the Ministry of Ontario standardized curriculum, report cards or transcripts. It is also bothersome, because I get asked this question so frequently that it occurred to me that most people automatically assume that report cards and transcripts ensure that all students who attend mainstream school will continue on to postsecondary studies. Unfortunately, the truth is that this is one of the most commonly accepted fallacies about what mainstream education offers. Also, embedded within this false belief is another untrue assumption. That every individual must continue on to college and university in order to be successful. As a passionate advocate for alternative education in Ontario, I feel that it is imperative that we begin to educate ourselves about what we accept to be true without questioning, and how we miss out on so much, as a result. So, with a couple of statistics and few of my own observations, I hope to ease doubts and open minds, to the endless possibilities that educational alternatives can provide, INCLUDING college and university if that is what a child desires.

Being the oh-so studious person that I am (hehehe), I jumped onto trusty Google Scholar to find out just how many students actually pursue post-secondary studies here in Ontario.  Statistics Canada reports that 56 per cent of Ontarians have attained a postsecondary credential. This number is compiled of approximately 28 per cent holding a college credential and another approximately 28 per cent holding a university credential.  According to the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Association (OCUFA),   Ontario actually has one of the highest post-secondary attainment rates in the world, and our province alone ranks higher than Japan (44 per cent) and the US (41 per cent). Not bad, eh? Okay, so now we have some cold hard numbers to work with. Even if we are to assume that the majority of this 56 per cent group attended mainstream educational institutions, what happened to the other 44 per cent? There are many possible answers to this. For one, Statistics Canada reports that Ontario had a drop-out rate of roughly 8-9 per cent in 2004. Secondly, we all know that there are many successful artists, inventors, tradespersons, entrepreneurs, apprentices, retailers and hospitality servers who did not require post-secondary education to find meaningful employment (I will leave digging further into this topic for another post). So again, for arguments sake, I have to point out that even if we were to assume that every person in Ontario were to attend mainstream education and receive all of the grading and corresponding transcripts, only a little more than half are actually going to pursue post-secondary education anyways.

Since we now have these approximate numbers to work with, let’s look at what researchers have found to be predictors of post-secondary attainment.  Is it really based on what curriculum is received or how students are instructed? Is the number one predictor of postsecondary attainment really attendance at a mainstream school, as many so adamantly believe to be true? The short answer is HECK NO! But to explain a little further, while instructional methods and school attendance can of course be predictors of postsecondary attainment, the most leading determinants of postsecondary attainment have nothing to do with either. Socioeconomic status is actually one of the leading predictors of attaining higher education. Parental income levels, parental educational attainment levels, and family backgrounds, culture and values play a profound role in the educational outcomes of children (Here is where I would insert another very passion fueled discussion on the social justice issues pertaining to equal access to education in Canada, however, I will put that in the “parking lot” for a future post). The main point I am trying to make here is that, rather than relinquishing all responsibility of educational outcomes to external factors such as attending mainstream school, families must become empowered to believe in their own values and what they bring to the table in order to explore and obtain the best outcome for each individual child. If university is the desired goal, it is achieved by far more than simply sending kids to a school for them to be graded. 

If I were writing this even just 10 years earlier, most of the evidence I could provide for this argument would stop right here. But since in recent years, equality and accessibility have been placed at the forefront in of educational reform, there are soooooo many amazing ways to access higher education without all of the grades and transcripts of mainstream education. Open learning has been introduced with the understanding that many barriers such as ability, class, race, geographical location etc. exist and have prevented learners from accessing higher education in the past. Open learning considers these barriers and removes admissions requirements beyond needing to be 16 years of age to attend. Now public institutions in Canada such as Athabasca University and Thompson Rivers University offer open learning, distance education programs to meet the needs of alternative learners (And a little FYI on the credibility and success of distance learning programs. Today, students can even obtain a BEng, BSW, MSW, BScN through online learning and I read that the Law Society of Canada anticipates that we will have a completely distance JD program (law degree) by 2020!). This leaves the door wide open for homeschoolers or alternative education route students to attend these institutions, transcript free as well! I speak of distance education first hand, because I was a high school drop-out myself, and now hold a Bachelor’s degree from Athabasca University! Aside from these and many other incredible distance options, homeschoolers have been paving the way for decades now, and virtually every postsecondary institution in Ontario has an alternative route to gaining admission into their programs. Check out the extensive list of university admissions policies for alternative learners, compiled by the Ontario Federation of Teaching parents. Portfolios, interviews, mature applicant status, college transfers and articulation agreements are all ways that students without traditional school transcripts can attend college or university…or both!

Now there you have it. No curriculum, solid family values and a positive learning environment can definitely get your child to university. On the other hand, K-12 attendance at a mainstream education could still place your child in the 44 per cent of students who does not continue on to higher learning. And of course with a quick switch of certain variables, the reverse outcomes are indeed possible for each scenario. Simply put, grades, transcripts and curriculum alone, are not going to guarantee postsecondary success for your children. The only sure fire way of knowing if your child will attend college or university is to nurture them so that they can discover if that is truly the path they want to take. Don’t let the fear of swimming against the current or a false sense of certainty prevent you from choosing the best educational fit for your family.

Finally, I want to clarify just one more thing while we’re on this topic. I am in no way asserting that homeschooling, democratic schools or any other educational alternatives are superior to the mainstream. Instead, I am advocating for increased awareness and support to offer solutions to those who need and want them. What if by giving support to families and communities/institutions offering alternatives, we could get that 56 per cent to climb to 75?  I believe with all of my heart, that homeschooling, unschooling, Democratic Schools, Waldorf, Montessori and mainstream education can all exist harmoniously rather than in competition and comparison of each other. Let’s face it; people learn, think and grow in different ways and the current one-size-fits-all educational system is limiting our children from their reaching full potential.

Chelsea is a facilitator for We Learn Naturally and director of the future DiverseCity School in Hamilton.

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