Practical courses teach life skills

Hands-on classes a hit | Saskatchewan curriculum requires applied arts courses for all students

Practical, hands-on classes such as home economics and industrial arts are back in vogue.

Not that they ever disappeared from school curricula, but their popularity is soaring as high school students look to trades-based careers.

Many school divisions cut their practical and applied arts (PAA) programming in the 1990s, said Gord Heidel, PAA co-ordinator for Saskatchewan’s education ministry.

“There was this mentality that everybody was going to go to university,” he said.

However, the province’s booming economy and demand for trades people has changed that mindset. From commercial cooking to welding to fashion design to agriculture, PAA classes are in demand.

Forty classes are offered under the PAA umbrella in Saskatchewan. Not all are offered everywhere; each school division has to consider its facilities and available expertise.

Christine Thompson, who teaches home economics to students in middle years in Swift Current, Sask., said basic cooking and sewing skills are taught to all students. It’s not like the old days when girls took home ec and boys took shop class, she added.

Most students at this level are starting from scratch.

“There are very few kids that come in with a lot of experience,” she said.

Members of organizations such as 4-H have done some cooking and sewing, but there is less time for this type of teaching at home because most families have two working parents.

Heidel said these important life skills are critical to students’ success both in school and as adults.

Hands-on learning also suits some students better than sitting in a lecture-style class.

Students generally select PAA classes that fit with their personal interests, such as auto body or carpentry.

“The kids who choose those electives thrive in those classes,” he said.

“That, for some kids, might be the difference between them carrying on through Grade 12 and not (graduating).”

It can also lead to a career.

The Saskatchewan curriculum requires that all Grade 7 to 9 students take 150 hours of PAA classes. After Grade 9, two PAA electives are required.

Heidel, who was hired by the ministry a year ago after 18 years as an auto body teacher, has been studying PAA curricula across Canada.

He is looking for ways to share ideas and resources, as well as how the different provinces’ curricula fit together. For example, electrical standards are fairly close across the country so classes in that area should be similar.

Heidel will also be updating curricula, but he said any changes are at least a year away.

The clothing, textiles and fashion design curriculum was last updated in 2000, while the food studies curriculum was established in 1999. He said at a pace of updating three out of 40 classes per year, there will always be some that are at least a decade out of date.

While the basics of cooking might not change, trends and palates do. He said immigration and television cooking shows have exposed people to ethnic food and preparation methods that go beyond the basic meat-and-potatoes cooking of 30 years.

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