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National education symposium set for St. Johnís

Dr. Ben Levin

by Heidi Wicks

From May 7-9, Memorial’s Faculty of Education, along with the Harris Centre, will host Symposium 2008: From Rhetoric to Reality.

The conference will get educators, administrators, policy professionals, academics and graduate students exchanging ideas in the areas of educational history, structural and curricular reform, the accountability movement, and role of education in social and economic change.

Extending from pre-primary to post-secondary education through to adult learning and literacy, conference speakers are outstanding nationally and internationally recognized educators and researchers who will provide a panoramic overview of educational reform since 1949.

One such speaker is Dr. Ben Levin, an internationally known expert on educational policy and research.

Dr. Levin has served as deputy minister of education both in Manitoba and Ontario, and is currently a professor and a Canada Research Chair in Education Leadership and Policy at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. He will be speaking on the topic, Schools in the Changing World, which is also the title of one of his books.

“I think strategies and people’s expectations have changed – they expect more from schools than they once did,” Dr. Levin said, regarding the difference in schools now versus 30-years-ago. “The political climate outside has changed, not just towards education, but in all professions.”

Originally, the conference was titled 60 Years of Educational Reform in Newfoundland and Labrador. Since confederation in 1949, the province has seen many turbulent events in education, affecting schools in various ways.

“For the most part, schools have endured that change without much impact at all,” said Dr. Levin. “Effort is on governance and structure, and quite frankly, one thing we’ve learned over the years is that you don’t change outcomes, and you don’t change students’ experiences by changing governance structures.”

Dr. Levin’s scholarly work is based largely around ideas concerning social change and how it seems to manifest itself in educational change.

“People want everything from schools, but people want everything from all their institutions,” he theorized. “There’s nothing that requires people to be reasonable in their political demands, and they’re not. So again, I don’t think there’s anything different in what schools are facing as opposed to say, in health care. The same thing – we expect the health care system to make sure nobody ever dies. Well, that’s a pretty tough order. So I think expectations will be too high, and in another way, I’d say that the more we deliver, the higher expectations get.”

Dr. Levin feels the importance of holding conferences such as Symposium 2008 is immeasurable.

“The more we can do to inspire public dialogue about education, the better,” he said. “Consultations aren’t usually the public, they’re mostly interest groups who are already involved. Therefore, it’s important to have a variety of ways in which people get to know about what’s going on in the education system. By and large, in education, as in all other policy fields, people have strong opinions, but they’re not usually knowledgeable. They don’t have time to be knowledgeable. So the more things we can do to encourage deepened public debate and understanding, the better.”

For more info on Symposium 2008, visit www.mun.ca/educ/symposium2008/ or contact Dr. Gerald Galway or Dr. David Dibbon, conference co-chairs, at Memorial.

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