Heavy lifting ahead in new curriculum

A new curriculum is being introduced into B.C. schools this year, as an option in the elementary grades, but the real “heavy lifting”...

A new curriculum is being introduced into B.C. schools this year, as an option in the elementary grades, but the real “heavy lifting” in school reform will come in the next two years.

That’s when the province’s high school curriculum will get its overhaul, and Jan Unwin, the former superintendent of the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows School District who is now an architect of a new curriculum, says the stakes are higher.

Unwin is the Education Ministry’s superintendent of graduation and student transitions, having left School District No. 42 in 2013 for the new challenge.

The new curriculum gives teachers flexibility and choice in how they choose to engage their children in learning.

“We’ve moving away from teachers feeling they have to cover curriculum,” she said. “It’s a new way of doing business.”

For the present school year, the new curriculum is optional for K-9 teachers, a “play-around year,” Unwin calls it.

Next year it will be mandatory across the province, and the high school curriculum will be at the introductory phase.

In the third year of the curriculum overhaul, changes in high school will also be mandatory.

Unwin gives a lot of credit for the work to the province’s teachers, who played a key role in developing the new plan for education, over a period of years.

But the graduation years loom – the “leaving years” from Grades 10-12.

“There’s more at stake there,” said Unwin. “And it’s much more content driven.”

The architects of the new curriculum will also need a buy-in from post-secondary institutions, and Unwin said there is ongoing dialogue between the ministry and universities.

The move away from letter grades is less controversial at the elementary level, but some people can’t imagine high school without letter grades. It will be impossible for universities to decide who they should admit, they say.

What’s more, Unwin said the new curriculum, with an approach that tailors learning to the student, should allow “way more” students to be successful in high school. So universities will need to develop systems that screen for the students they want.

“The big idea is that everyone [post secondary institutions] want kids to come to them and have their best chance at success.”

Unwin anticipates the curriculum to be reviewed on an ongoing basis.

She agrees the province will need to support teachers in their changing role, and coming reforms would benefit from a “skookum implementation plan.”

A plan of support is needed.

“It’s almost a shift in identity from a teacher of content to a coach, mentor and activator.”

Unwin said B.C. educators are not necessarily forerunners in their new approach. Ontario and Alberta have been doing similar work.

“It’s definitely not a B.C. phenomenon,” she said. “But you need to develop the model yourself. You have all your own nuances and culture in the province.”