Canada is a vast country of ten provinces and three territories, each of which governs its own elementary, secondary and post-secondary education programs. Although students can transfer easily throughout the provinces, there is no national or federal Education Ministry; rather, each provincial government’s educational system reflects the diversity of its region while exposing the similarities with the rest of Canada and the world.
In the province of Alberta, all Alberta Education accredited schools follow a common and rigorous curriculum for grades 1 to 12. The strength of the Alberta Program is due in part to the continuous evaluation and controlled parameters of its rich curriculum, which specifies learner outcomes for each subject area. Students in grades 3, 6, and 9 take provincial achievement tests to evaluate grade-level standards and expectations, and Grade 12 students write provincial examinations in core subject areas to qualify for an Alberta High School Diploma. This internationally recognized diploma permits students’ entry into university programs throughout North America and the world.
Academically, Canada consistently ranks high in the international student achievement tests in Reading, Math and Science, and Alberta students rank significantly above the Canadian average. But standardized testing does not tell the whole story. Increasingly, schools are implementing strategies to increase students’ critical thinking and problem solving skills to prepare them for life after high school.
Student-centered learning is an international educational initiative developing in response to our 21st Century global demands for highly skilled and self-directed thinkers. Training students to be problem solvers means providing them with situations that incorporate cross-curricular competencies; which is why Alberta Education promotes Inquiry-Based Learning (IBL), a “process where students are involved in their learning, formulate questions, investigate widely and then build new understandings, meanings and knowledge” (Focus on Inquiry, 2004, p.1). IBL is not a textbook or curriculum: IBL is an educational approach that involves administrators, teachers, students and parents in a culture of inquiry – a component of all Alberta Education curricula.