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Mike Bernier inherits a high-profile education folio with a long history of heated labour and legal disputed.

CHAD HIPOLITO/The Globe and Mail

British Columbia is poised to introduce a new education curriculum that aims to transform students' interests in activities such as sports and music into academic success.

Education Minister Mike Bernier said Tuesday the curriculum, set for phased-in introduction this year, hopes to identify individual students' passions and what makes them tick. Those passions will then be harnessed by teachers and used to keep students interested in learning the core skills, such as reading, writing and arithmetic, required for future success, he said.

"We need to have some flexibility to ensure that all of our children are getting the basics and the skills they need," said Mr. Bernier.

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The curriculum will also build the critical thinking, collaboration and communication skills vital for higher education and the work force, he said. It will offer aboriginal perspectives at all grade levels, including an examination of the residential school system, and examine the history of South Asian and Chinese immigrants, including the Chinese Head Tax.

Kindergarten-to-Grade 9 students will get the first taste of the new curriculum this fall in what is being billed as a transition approach to the program.

Mr. Bernier said school districts and teachers have the option this year to implement the new kindergarten-to-Grade-9 curriculum on a partial or complete basis, although it must be fully introduced next year. The program for students in Grades 10 to 12 is still being drafted but will be introduced next year. The entire K-12 curriculum will be phased in by the 2017-18 school year.

"Every district or region might come in with a different approach of how they are going to phase in this transition year," Mr. Bernier said.

"Those decisions are going to be made locally, with each school district working with their teachers to ensure that they are comfortable."

The new curriculum comes at a stable period in B.C.'s historically tumultuous education system, he said.

A strike last year by the province's 40,000 public school teachers resulted in a late-September start to the school year.

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But the five-week strike ended with teachers and government signing a six-year contract.

"This is an opportunity for us as a province, with teachers and parents to make sure no matter how your child learns [he or she] is going to get the skills to be successful in the future," said Mr. Bernier.

Jim Iker, president of the BC Teachers' Federation, said members were included in all aspects of the curriculum development and are supportive and comfortable with the changes.

He said the phased-in approach gives teachers and school districts necessary opportunities to test-drive the program.

Mr. Iker said teachers have concerns about funding for extra costs, especially classroom resources, that are bound to result.

Mr. Bernier said more than 100 teachers and top-notch education experts worked together for three years to create the flexible learning curriculum.

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He said regular report cards with letter grades assessing student achievement will remain integral parts of the new curriculum.

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