Winnipeg Free Press: A new model of learning

A new model of learning. By: Staff Writer. 14/10/2009 1:00 AM

Creative thinking from the University of Winnipeg. The widening of focus here is illustrative ways in which a personalised educational landscape can develop.

Universities have traditionally viewed themselves as elite institutions of higher learning and research, reserved largely for qualified students of means and motivation. Absent from this formula was a sense of social and community responsibility, of a direct duty to those struggling beyond the hallowed walls.

The University of Winnipeg has slowly been trying to change this familiar model in an effort to become more relevant to society in general and to guarantee a role for itself well into the future. “We have to reposition ourselves, or risk going the way of General Motors,” university president Lloyd Axworthy said in a Free Press editorial board meeting Tuesday, where he outlined an ambitious vision of the university’s future.

His goal is to integrate the university into the cultural, educational and social fabric of the community under a new model known as “community learning.” The phrase is a description of the work the university has done in throwing open its doors to groups that have traditionally felt excluded, notably aboriginals, and the use of its resources to address the full range of social, economic and environmental problems in the community.

In Mr. Axworthy’s vision, the university belongs to the community and everyone has an equal right to benefit from it. As such, he says the university should help public schools to improve graduation rates; it should offer aid to newcomers, aboriginals and the elderly; and develop new methods to help poor students find the cash needed to attend university.

Since he took over the university five years ago, Mr. Axworthy has launched an expansion program that has physically extended the university as well as establishing new programs for residents in the struggling West End neighbourhood. In the last three years, to use just one example, 2,400 students have participated in a special summer camp, one of the largest day camps for inner-city and aboriginal youth.

A so-called model school was set up at the U of W Collegiate last year that offered individualized education for students of potentially high achievement, but who were at high risk of dropping out of regular schools or who were experiencing behavioural problems, addictions or criminal activity.

Mr. Axworthy has tapped private funding for some programs, but the obvious questions are how large will a “community learning” approach become, what will it cost, and who is going to pay for it? The answers are a little uncertain right now, although it seems reasonable that the university should be compensated for the problems and issues it addresses in the community.

On a broader scale, the university needs a more sensible funding formula than the current outdated system, which does not even link grants with the number of students being served.

Mr. Axworthy’s appeal for a new interpretation of the purpose and meaning of a university deserves a sympathetic hearing, particularly at a time when some people are questioning the value of expensive university degrees that don’t prepare students for real jobs.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 14, 2009 A12

About the author

Comments are closed.

Powered by WordPress | Two Thirds Design