Educators in B.C. have been wrestling with change, spending most of three years developing a new curriculum for the digital age, and the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows school district superintendent has been part of the conversation.
Jan Unwin’s outspoken passion for education reform got her tapped on the shoulder by the Education Ministry in 2010. The ministry wanted her ideas added to the process of rewriting the kindergarten to Grade 9 curriculum. She was made part of the curriculum framework advisory group.
“If the outside world is changing rapidly, why hasn’t the education system changed to the same degree?” asks Unwin.
It appears that it is about to. The proposed new curriculum has been published and is available for review by all education stakeholders.
In essence, there is less of what Unwin calls “minutiae.” She criticizes the present curriculum for being “a mile wide and an inch deep,” with too much focus on facts and information that any student equipped holding an online device can access in seconds. There will be a new emphasis on so-called competencies.
“We want students to be learners, and we want them to be problem solvers,” said Uwin.
The description from the education ministry is: “A more flexible curriculum that prescribes less and enables more, for both teachers and students and a system focused on the core competencies, skills and knowledge that students need to succeed in the 21st Century. Feedback from teachers on B.C.’s Education Plan has suggested that, currently, B.C.’s curriculum has too many prescribed learning outcomes, and that reducing those outcomes will give teachers more time and flexibility to allow students to explore their interests and passions.”
Last week, Unwin was in Montebello, Que., for a national superintendent’s conference. B.C.’s new curriculum was a hot topic.
“Everybody wants to see it, everybody wants to hear how it goes, and everybody wants to copy it,” said Unwin. “We [superintendents] are all struggling with educational change.”
She jotted down one superintendent’s observation that struck a chord with her, which summarizes the problem facing educators:
“The skills that are easiest to teach and test are also the easiest to digitize, automate and outsource.”
Unwin’s philosophy on education reforms might best be summed up by a notice she sent to teachers in 2010, “before any of this started,” with the title “The End of Teaching Everything.”
“Teachers can’t teach everything listed in provincial IRPs [integrated resource packages], and they don’t have to. “In fact, research shows that teaching that focuses primarily on coverage of the curriculum:
• rarely gives students “a sense of the whole” of the subject area;
• leaves students unexcited and unengaged in the learning;
• and often results in learning that is never transferred to long-term memory.”
Teachers in this district will be no strangers to the concepts introduced in the new curriculum. However, their job doesn’t get any easier.
“It’s easier to do what we know – what we’ve always done. What if the things we’ve always done don’t prepare them for a successful life?”
Describing the role of future teachers, she uses words like “guide”, “mentor” and “co-learner.”
“It’s an identity shift for teachers.”
If a tsunami strikes a country, the proposed curriculum would enable teachers to explore it in a way that encompasses science, history and other subjects, without worrying that their class is getting behind on subjects laid out in the curriculum.
“We want to free teachers up to seize the moment.”
Designing and implementing the new curriculum is happening slowly.
“It’s going to take some time. It’s a transformation, and it’s going to take years.”
Reform of the graduation program, from Grades 10-12, will be the next step. It will be made more challenging by the demands placed upon graduates by post secondary institutions. Certain, prescribed content must be taught “because if we miss something, they’re going to be harmed,” notes Unwin.
However, the teaching philosophy from the K-9 program must also be continued.
“It can’t be at disconnect.”
Unwin will also be involved in that process.
Anyone who wants to have their say about the new K-9 curriculum can have it. The government has made it available online for review and feedback at www.curriculum.gov.bc.ca.
Does Unwin like it?
“Totally,” she said. “It just doesn’t go fast enough for me.”