Life experience an education
By Sandra Dimitrakopoulos
The value of life experience in comparison to formal education is the topic of discussion among a number of interest groups meeting this week in Montreal to discuss a program called Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition.
Lenore Burton, executive director of the Canadian Labour Force Development Board, which played host to the event, said this second national conference is the result of a study the board was commissioned for regarding transitions into and out of the work force.
Out of this survey came recommendations which suggest prior learning from either work or volunteer experience can be a powerful catalyst helping propel people into life-long learning by translating life experience into advanced standing in certain post-secondary degrees, Burton said.
"What we are talking about here is a fundamental shift in how we think about learning," she said. Adult learners have a difficult time going back to school and the PLAR program attempts to eliminate these existing barriers.
Burton said the most resistance to the idea has come from universities, yet the conference has been targeted towards employers and labour unions in the hopes they will approach post-secondary institutions.
"It is a progressive move to give full credit for life experience yet we must be careful not to change post-secondary institutions into job factories," said Hoops Harrison, national director of the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations.
Allen Pearson, dean of the faculty of education at Western, said this can probably work in some cases, yet there are definitely professional requirements students must meet.
In Ontario, an undergraduate university degree is required for admittance into the faculty of education, yet certain institutions, such as Western, may count some out-of-province post-secondary courses towards the primary degree, he added.
Although most teaching degrees are transferable, Pearson said there are provinces like British Columbia which make the transition to teaching in another province much harder.
Because of the integrative curriculum of medical degrees, it would be impossible to exempt individuals from courses based on life experience yet John Howard, assistant dean for undergraduate medical education at Western, said life skills are still very important to have.
"Although I do not believe it is pivotal to the degree, life experience is one of the many attributes considered in candidates to the program since we like to emphasize the aspect of communication," he said.
James Deans, VP-communications for the University Students' Council, said he thinks volunteer experience reveals many aspects of a individual's personality, including their level of dedication to a certain field and how much they enjoy what they are doing.