Wednesday, September 5, 2012

More educational change? Really?

On the first day back at school, just after former Education Minister George Abbott announced his intention to resign from politics, and just before a cabinet shuffle, the BC Government decided to announce they are overhauling BC's curriculum.

The proposed curriculum changes were developed last year, during a protracted labour dispute with teachers. As a result, there has been no input from teachers' union and profession body, the BC Teachers Federation. It is a bit like changing the procedures for surgery in a hospital without asking the doctors. Crazy.

The changes are focused on so-called "21st century learning" - a euphemism for needing change that doesn't explain why change is needed. The basic idea is that somehow because the century changed from 20 to 21 we now need skill and technology oriented learning as opposed to content oriented learning. The rationale for the changes erroneously assume that education in the 20th century was one monolithic factory model. Nothing could be further from the truth. Very few classrooms today have desks in a row, there is very little rote learning of facts, much schooling is project and team oriented, and schools and Districts offer a plethora of locally developed courses on a wide variety of subject areas including the environment, psychology, social justice, to name a few.

One of the features of the proposal is to reduce the amount of prescribed content. I generally support this idea, as I believe teachers then have the freedom to develop lessons and units based on the particular students they are teaching and the local community in which they teach. However, I also believe it is important that we, as a society, democratically determine the content that schooling includes.

The proposal seems to take the idea of curriculum reform a bit far. Critical thinking, for example, must be embedded in a context - there is the subject matter about which students are thinking critically. Moreover, schooling provides us with factual information necessary to be informed democratic citizens. The First Nations curriculum and the Declaration of Human Rights are just two examples of specific curricular content I would not want to see removed.

Finally there is a danger in changing curriculum without changing the mandated testing that has invaded schools and teaching over the past two decades. Without specific curriculum, but with mandated testing, the tests themselves will more and more drive the teaching content.

But despite all these concerns, one has to wonder why a government so low in the polls, with cabinet Ministers leaving almost daily, would try and continue with a multi-year agenda developed without the input of the professionals who are in our classrooms every day.

1 comment:

  1. Right on Tara! I'm tired of the Ministry pretending that they have suddenly discovered something that has been happening for years. Especially when it has been their own policies that have put up roadblocks that interfere with exactly what they are now touting. i.e. Mandatory testing (FSAs, Gr. 10 & 11 exams)