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BCs education plan raises questions

Teachers approach school board with concerns

by Kyle Wells reporter@prpeak.com Teachers approached Powell River Board of Education at its meeting recently with concerns over the ministry of education’s new education plan.

BC’s Education Plan, announced by Education Minister George Abbott on October 28, looks toward the future of education in the province by tackling five areas meant to bring the system into the 21st century. It heralds personalized learning for every student, quality teaching and learning, flexibility and choice, high standards and learning empowered by technology as the way toward modernization.

Only the basic elements of the plan exist in its initial form. Most of the action items the plan contains revolve around getting information and feedback and developing a more comprehensive plan.

Cathy Fisher, Powell River and District Teachers’ Association president, and a group of local teachers attended the meeting to ask Jay Yule, superintendent of schools for School District 47, about the specifics of the plan and how he anticipates it will be implemented here.

Yule said at the board meeting that provincially, districts have been assured they will have the opportunity to give input into the process. He believes district 47 is already moving toward goals similar to those outlined in the plan and hopes the plan draws ideas from teachers, as the district does, because top down decision making isn’t appropriate here.

Flexibility in time schedules and more diversified class options are a focus of the plan. Yule said the district has already been working toward this goal with such programs as night school at Brooks Secondary School and experiential summer programs.

“I think in many ways we’re already there,” said Yule. “I think the unknown is what the effect will be on many of the very specifics that you can find in their plan, on what that will look like and what the impact will be on schooling.”

Despite this, Yule said he has particular concern around the ministry’s outlined plans for changes to curriculums. The plan sets out a 24-month timeline in which the “curriculum will be redesigned to reflect the core competencies, skills and knowledge that students need to succeed in the 21st century.” Yule said it remains to be seen how that will look and how it will affect graduation requirements, timetabling and courses offered. He also worries that without adequate timing allowed the goals in the plan may be difficult to achieve.

“The concepts I think nobody will argue with, it’s always the implementation that becomes difficult,” said Yule. “It becomes easy to say you want flexible realtime learning for everyone but really, we’re in a school with a timetable and grad requirements and how do we put those two together? Those will be the challenges as we move ahead.”

Fisher said that after her first look at the government’s plan she wondered whether the government was aware of the work this district has already been doing, especially in relation to flexible learning and the use of technology.

“We are not teaching like we taught 100 years ago,” said Fisher. “It’s not about teachers keeping up with technology, it’s about technology keeping up with teachers.”

Fisher asked Yule whether the steps in the plan will be mandated or whether there will be flexibility for individual districts to apply the plan as it relates to their circumstances. Yule said that local context will be a part of the plan, as he understands it, but that he is concerned over the potential scope of the specific changes the plan could implement.

“At the end of the day, the board does have some difficult decisions as we move forward,” said Yule.

Yule said there is a process for individual districts to have their say in the planning as it goes forward. The question though, said Yule, is whether that say is heard. Yule would like to see any major changes first presented as a draft for districts to comment on before any final decisions.

For more details on the government’s plan and for students, parents and anyone else to have their own opportunity to provide input on the plan, interested readers can visit the government's website.