Information Literacy and Education Policy: A Canadian Case Study

By Russell, Pia | School Libraries Worldwide, July 2005 | Go to article overview

Information Literacy and Education Policy: A Canadian Case Study


Russell, Pia, School Libraries Worldwide


This Canadian research explored a single education jurisdiction's information literacy curriculum policy development. Using the province of Ontario's Ministry of Education as a case study, a rhetorical analysis of relevant policy documents and semistructured, open-ended interviews with 12 policy contributors constituted the methodological framework of the study. This research found that the teacher-librarian community's advocacy network, the diminished state of school libraries in Canada, and the Ministry's emphasis on traditional literacy priorities have had significant effects on the development of information literacy policy.

Introduction

The purpose of this research project was to understand how information literacy is situated in education curriculum policy. In their paper "Canada: An information Literacy case Study," Whitehead and Quirdan (2003) outlined recent information literacy developments and discussed initiatives presently underway in Canada. According to Whitehead and Quirdan, the information literacy situation in Canada is bleak.

Information literacy initiatives in Canada remain on the margins of the education process, from elementary school through to post-secondary institutions much to the detriment of Canada's workforce and economic potential, (p. 1)

In Canada, students start schooling in kindergarten at approximately age 5 and progress through grades 1 to 12. The two broad levels of mandatory schooling are elementary (from approximately 5 to 12 years of age) and secondary (from approximately 13 to 17 years of age). Optional university or college schooling is considered postsecondary education. This research focused on curriculum for both elementary and secondary education.

The Canadian Constitution Act (Government of Canada, 2005) gives provincial ministries of education the responsibility for administering all laws relating to education and skills training such as:

* Developing curriculum policy;

* Determining provincial standards for student achievement;

* Distributing funds allocated by the provincial legislature to assist school boards with the operation of schools.

The Ontario Ministry of Education (OME) is the authoritative institution that supervises education for all students in Ontario schools. Ontario is Canada's most populated province with 11,410,046 of the country's 32,078,819 people, and in 1999, 116,913 students graduated from Ontario secondary schools (Statistics Canada, 2005a). second only to health, education is one of the provincial government's leading responsibilities and expenditures (Ontario Ministry of Finance, 2005).

Tracing the term information literacy throughout the Ontario Ministry of Education's documents provides insight into how the Ministry understands information literacy and how school boards interpret their curriculum obligations as directed by the Ministry. Of 72 regional school boards across Ontario, only a handful recognize the importance of information literacy in their policy documents. However, simply articulating such a goal through policy does not necessarily translate into practice. With the OME's vague treatment of information literacy, it is not surprising that not all school boards have adopted it as an important learning concept. It is surprising, though, that despite the slight treatment information literacy has been given in OME curriculum policy, those boards that have identified information literacy have done so extensively and in a manner that anticipates the Ministry's initiatives. What are the conditions that have enabled these boards to recognize the importance of information literacy despite the vague OME policies on information literacy.

The purpose of this study was to investigate the development of the OME's information literacy policy in order to gain insight into its current inconsistent delivery. The central issue investigated in this study was the development of information literacy policy as depicted by the OME, but not the particular outcomes of this policy. …

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