Doing the math

Reforms and cutbacks add up to dramatic changes in Canadian classrooms

Date published: 2006-04-27 10:27:23 AM

Maurice Tardif and his team are conducting the most comprehensive study ever undertaken of teaching in Canadian public schools.

As teachers and administrators struggle to cope with shrinking budgets, rapidly changing curricula, swelling class sizes, and waves of retirements, researchers from 19 universities are working to assess the performance, competence and teaching methods of Canadian teachers from junior kindergarten to senior secondary school.

"This project gets to the heart of the critical questions and issues at play in today's education system," says Tardif, a professor of education at Université de Montréal. "The cornerstone of the Canadian education system, teachers continue to deal with a barrage of reforms and cutbacks that have fundamentally changed the classroom by altering daily workloads and the level of interaction with students."

"Teachers today face challenges unimagined by previous generations. They look out into the classroom and see large, ill-equipped, impersonal classes filled with children who need a more sophisticated education than ever before to help Canada keep its position as an innovation leader."

Today, there's nothing unusual about teaching a class of 35 students, with some who don't speak English or French, others who are too hungry to concentrate, and yet others with learning disabilities or other special needs.

"But it's more than just diversity in the student population. We're talking about teachers' changing roles and duties as well as advances in technology and communications that are driving demands for a knowledge-based society. Moreover, in the past few years, there have been drastic changes in curriculum thrown into the mix."

The $2.5 million, five-year project was one of five awarded funding under SSHRC's Major Collaborative Research Initiatives (MCRI) program. Tardif's project team draws researchers from eight Canadian universities, 11 U.S. and European post-secondary institutions, and is supported by Statistics Canada, the Council of Education Ministers of Canada, and the Canadian Teachers' Federation.

Maurice Tardif heads a $2.5 million, five-year national study of teaching in Canadian schools. The SSHRC-funded project was approved early in 2002. It was his 10th grant.