Public school students return to class this year to face the biggest overhaul to the curriculum in B.C. history – but some school districts will not be equipped to fully implement it, according to the union representing public school teachers.
The new curriculum aims to emphasize concepts, big ideas and personalized learning over facts and rote memorization, with added aboriginal perspectives across the board and the introduction of computer coding as a core skill.
It's a new direction that the Ministry of Education and the BC Teachers' Federation (BCTF) reached together, and the union, which represents the province's 41,000 public school teachers, is pleased with it. However, many school districts simply don't have the resources to adequately implement it, new BCTF president Glen Hansman said.
He cited some examples: There is a new science curriculum but some schools cannot afford new science equipment. Some school districts can't afford new textbooks and will be using old ones. Some teachers will have to improvise in teaching the new applied design, skills and technologies curriculum – which includes the promise that all students will learn coding – as schools cannot afford computers.
"It's simply not a reality for most," Mr. Hansman said. "I know the minister has said you can teach coding without computers – and yes, the whole computational thinking, and logic, and all that goes with it – but at the end of the day, the reality for most school districts is that computers are extremely expensive and, given all the other needs in the system, what are you going to pick when you're strapped for cash?"
Asked about the issue on Tuesday, the first day of school, Premier Christy Clark said her government is committed to supporting the new curriculum.
"We're … adding $6-million, for example, to train teachers on coding so that every young person in British Columbia, by the time they finish Grade 9, is a coder," she said at an unrelated event in Vancouver. "We want them to start it in kindergarten and finish that in Grade 9 so that every one of them that chooses to can perhaps have a future in the tech industry."
The Premier thanked the BCTF for helping build what she feels will be the "best curriculum in Canada."
In fact, only $2-million of the $6-million will go specifically to coding – which Mr. Hansman says will result in a "train-the-trainer" model in which a few teachers from each school learn the curriculum and teach colleagues at the school.
"That could be a component of an implementation plan but certainly isn't the entire thing," he said. "In a variety of the areas of the revised curriculum, there needs to be a comprehensive, multiyear plan to make available a wide range of in-service opportunities for all teachers to access, regardless of where they live in the province. That sort of availability is not in place right now, nor are the individuals that would provide in-service or any sort of ongoing support."
Another $2-million is for general curriculum implementation and the remaining $2-million for purchasing technology – "which won't go very far given the number of schools around the province," Mr. Hansman said.
Education Minister Mike Bernier has promised that high-speed Internet will be available in every school in B.C. by the end of the year.
"The opportunities we want to look at are equal, whether you are a student in Haida Gwaii, Fort Nelson, Vancouver, we have to have opportunities for everyone," Mr. Bernier told reporters last week.