Seen and Heard: Teach for Canada

Wyndham Bettencourt-McCarthy

“Educational inequality is one of the great unspoken public policy challenges,” said Teach for Canada’s Adam Goldenberg during a presentation at SPPG on Thursday afternoon. Goldenberg and Teach for Canada co-founder Kyle Hill stopped by U of T to deliver their presentation, “How Can We Make Education More Equal?” and to publicly discuss their Teach for Canada program for the first time.

Goldenberg and Hill began by addressing several unsettling statistics that revealed the disparities between the media’s celebrated view of Canadian education the reality of frequently overlooked inequalities. Schools in low-income urban areas and Aboriginal reserves, for example, demonstrate significantly lower performance levels than those in the rest of Canada. Particularly distressing is the fact that 61% of First Nations students who live on-reserve are not completing high school.

The presentation also elaborated on the educational discrepancies that exist between rural and urban populations. Goldenberg and Hill’s data shows that the six least-populous provinces have the lowest national test scores, and that at the sub-provincial level, urban areas vastly outperform smaller communities. “This inequality is all but absent from public discourse,” said Hill, who emphasized that the media’s positive presentation of Canadian education focuses on good news at the expense of addressing more disturbing inequalities.

Citing the quality of teachers as the “number one determinant” in students’ level of achievement, Goldenberg and Hill have developed a Teach for Canada program modeled after Teach for America and Teach First in the U.K. Their plan consists of recruiting students from top universities, and placing them in under-serviced communities for two years to educate, influence, and hopefully inspire students. By showing young leaders the gaps in our nation’s celebrated educational system, Teach for Canada also hopes to prioritize the problem of education inequality.

Teach for Canada’s five-year action plan involves placing recruits in classrooms by September 2015. They have already been incorporated as a not-for-profit, and are in the process of securing charitable status. By September of 2014 they hope to start visiting Canada’s top universities to recruit students to join the program after they finish their undergraduate degree.  Participants would then receive an intensive three-month training, covering everything from pedagogy to working in isolated, tight-knit communities.

To fund the organization, Goldenberg and Hill plan to secure operational costs from investors in the private sector, and they hope to pay their teacher’s salaries through the existing school boards by sending them to areas that have expressed a need for additional instructors. Since some cities, such as the GTA, already have a surplus of qualified teachers, the program would also accept teaching graduates from OISE and other colleges and place them in rural communities.

When asked if they had considered the potential consequence of displacing existing teachers, the pair emphasized that they would only work in areas where a deficiency already exists. “If a community can recruit their own teachers internally, they won’t want our help,” said Goldenberg. Still, a major obstacle to the program is the lack of publicly-accessible data, which will make it difficult for Teach for Canada to locate the areas that are most in need of assistance. In light of this reality, Goldenberg and Hill are considering doing a tour of rural areas themselves to locate schools that are interested in the program.

In addition to supplying high-quality teachers to under-serviced and overlooked areas, Goldenberg and Hill hope that Teach for Canada will have a lasting impact on the students that participate as teachers. “Exposing young Canadians to these disparities is the [program’s] single most important outcome,” said Goldenberg, who recently spent a summer teaching in Iqaluit.

What are the qualities that Goldenberg and Hill are looking for in potential Teach for Canada participants? According to Goldenberg, “The most important trait is an overwhelming concern for the welfare of their students, and passion for the art of teaching itself.”

Wyndham Bettencourt-McCarthy is a 2014 Master of Public Policy Candidate at the School of Public Policy and Governance at the University of Toronto. She also holds a BA (Honours) in English from the University of Toronto, and has written for a number of Toronto publications, including The Grid, Eye Weekly,Toronto AV Club, University of Toronto Alumni Magazine, and others. 


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