New curriculum coming

Three-year transition includes move away from letter grades

What skills and aptitudes do our children need to prepare them to thrive in a future where a virtual world of information is available at their fingertips, through a device most everyone carries?

Big changes are coming to the school system, starting with back to school 2015 on Tuesday.

“Today’s students need the right skills to succeed in tomorrow’s world,” said the Education Ministry in announcing curriculum changes that will be phased into the school system over the next three years.

Local people have been involved in shaping the new curriculum. Former school district superintendent Jan Unwin left the district in 2013 to take a position with the Education Ministry, and has been one of the leaders on the curriculum change, in the position of superintendent of graduation and student services.

Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows trustee Ken Clarkson also served on curriculum committees. He is a former school board chairman and a retired teacher, and worked with a group looking at the fine arts curriculum two summers ago. As a director member of the B.C. School Trustees Association, since January he has been on a committee working on issues including provincial exams, assessment and university requirements.

The latter is a key issue in curriculum change, he said, and the committee was co-chaired by the deans of Simon Fraser University and the University of B.C.

“Evaluation drives the education system,” said Clarkson.

The Education Ministry says in the new curriculum, students will learn the basics like reading, writing and arithmetic “in a way that connects them with collaboration, critical thinking and communications skills they need to thrive in college, university and the work force.”

According to the ministry, flexible learning is at the heart of the refined approach and it will help teachers tap into the passions and interests of individual students. Students can learn about core subjects while doing projects related to their interests, such as music, hockey, or dinosaurs. There will be more hands-on learning opportunities, so students can see how classroom knowledge applies in real life situations.

Clarkson said post-secondary institutions in B.C. will not worry about grade point averages in the not-too-distant future.

“Rather than emphasizing grades, they will emphasize portfolios,” said Clarkson.

He said the future will offer more student self-evaluation, with an onus on graduates to show universities in their portfolios what they have learned, and how they have performed in high school.

Clarkson said there has been resistance to moving away from letter grades at the secondary level.

“Letter grades are easily interpreted, and they appear factual,” he agreed. “But the whole emphasis of the new curriculum is on individualized learning. The system needs to serve the student, not the student serve the system.

“We need, for the future, kids who want to continue to learn. People are going to need to be lifelong learners and adapt to change.”

The Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows district has moved away from letter grades at the elementary school, in favour of three-way conferences involving student, teacher and parents. Getting rid of letter grades in high school was a long-term goal, a controversial issue, said Clarkson, but will be made easier by the province-wide curriculum change.

“Look at your own child. I don’t want someone saying ‘you’re an A, B or C child.’ You have to find out the child’s passion, and what they’re good at.”

This year, the new curriculum is optional for teachers in K-9, but next year it will be mandatory. The Grades 10-12 curriculum is still being developed, and will be optional next year, but mandatory in year three of the phase-in.

George Serra, president of the Maple Ridge Teachers’ Association, said the curriculum change is an area where the BCTF and the provincial government have worked together. More than 100 teachers have had input over the past three years. But the teachers’ union is not happy with the government’s plan for transition.

“The problem we have is the government is not going to fund an implementation piece,” said Serra. “It’s going to be a rocky road implementation-wise.

“They make wholesale changes, but then fall short by not putting any resources into an implementation plan.”

 

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