What We Don’t Know and How It Hurts Us

Editorial: Learning loss is bad everywhere, and demands immediate action

Today’s newspaper headlines often talk about learning, but the public conversation about learning is missing a crucial component: what we don’t know and how it hurts us.

There is also less awareness of the role of data in the public debate about education. The evidence is all around us, with well-documented gaps between rich and poor in educational achievement. What we don’t know about learning, we can know about what our students know, and the data show the difference in quality of care we might not even be aware of.

The data are clear. Almost half of secondary school students in Canada don’t know the rules of baseball. They know how to tie their shoes, but not the game. While we need to do better to fix this education-related learning gap, the lack of awareness and data around the issue is an even bigger problem.

The current conversation about learning is missing crucial information about what we don’t know and how we don’t know it. This is why we have asked the expert panel on improving student learning to respond to the new government report, What We Don’t Know.

We need to know more.

The evidence is clear that we know way too much. The data are clear that we know how to learn, but not in the way that we do. More than half of our students can recall learning new material, but only about a third of them do. About two-thirds of teachers believe that their students can learn new material, but only a quarter of them truly know what this means. Even more astonishing is the fact that about 20 per cent of teachers say they can’t identify the learning that their teachers cannot identify on them to teachers.

When we know the right answers, we are more successful educators. But we know way too much about what we don’t know and how we don’t know it.

This leads directly to the central challenge we face, which is how to increase student learning

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