B.C. students will be encouraged to bring their own smart phones and digital tablets to class to keep them tech-savvy as part of a new education plan announced Friday.
Education Minister George Abbott said the new program will transform a system of learning that is still rooted in a previous century. He promised to establish personalized learning plans for every student and more choices for parents about “what, how, when and where their child learns.”
B.C. will promote the use of technology for both students and educators, “better preparing students to thrive in an increasingly digital world.”
The B.C. Education Plan, which also establishes regular teacher performance evaluation sessions, is being launched in the midst of a fractious labour dispute with the province’s teachers. And it comes just two days after Mr. Abbott introduced legislation creating a new disciplinary body for educators, a plan that has been poorly received by the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation.
Although the plan includes a promise of more support for teachers, there is no additional money promised to pay for the initiatives.
“The preoccupation is not with money at the moment, the preoccupation is with good ideas and best practices,” Mr. Abbott said in an interview. He is inviting feedback from the public and the teachers’ union over the next several months, and said he’d be prepared to fight for more funding if he’s convinced it is needed to implement the changes.
But Glen Hansman, an executive with the BCTF, said the provincial government isn’t providing enough money to fund the current system, much less the additional demands of the proposed new one. “On the surface there are a lot of things that teachers would be supportive of. But how that happens in the current funding envelope, I don’t know,” he said Friday. “The real issues that need to be addressed are class size and class composition and getting needed support for special needs.”
Mr. Abbott said the school curriculum will continue to focus on basic core skills, but it will now emphasize critical thinking, insight and teamwork.
“Many of the opportunities and jobs we’re preparing our students for don’t even exist today,” the plan states. “So while we enjoy a strong and stable system, we need a more nimble and flexible one that can adapt more quickly to better meet the needs of 21st century learners.”
To make way for individual learning plans, the province will trim its standard curriculum requirements, leaving students with more free time to follow areas of study that interest them.
“A curriculum with fewer but higher level outcomes will create time to allow deeper learning and understanding,” the plan states. “Increased flexibility will be key to making sure that student’s passions and interests are realized, as well as their different and individual ways of learning.”
That flexibility will likely mean more learning outside the classroom and a less-defined school calendar. “In many cases, the way classes and schools look might change,” the document states. “School calendars may change if boards of education see that as benefitting students. Almost certainly, more learning will take place outside of the school setting.”
Ironically, the plan also includes “greater access and richer information” on students’ progress at a time when teachers are, as part of their labour dispute, refusing to fill in report cards. Mr. Abbott said he wasn’t prepared to wait until the current dispute is settled before introducing his plan, but he is asking the BCTF to work with him to finetune the details.