B.C. education is already skill-based

In math, formulae and calculators are provided for students, so that all they have to do is show that they understand how and not what.

Editor, The News:

Re: Province to review grad requirements (The News, Nov. 7).

Like our MLA Marc Dalton, I believe we do have a “world class education system” (though not without its faults), so I puzzle at the systemic, untested alterations being promoted for implementation by our provincial and district education administrations.

Specifically, the desire to see “less content-based assessment, and more skill-based assessment” seems wildly out-of-date. You don’t have to be a teacher to see the problems with this.

As a concerned parent, even I know that more often than not, assessment already is skills-based.  One’s writing in an English class is likelier assessed on the mastery of the skill demonstrated than on any content knowledge, even if content is used to fuel composition.

In math, formulae and calculators are provided for students, so that all they have to do is show that they understand how and not what.

Even when it seems that content is being assessed, often it is in fact still skills that are the focus: did the student have the skill to pay attention and take notes (from the board or on one’s own – both basic skills), maintain an organized binder, study effectively, and retain salient details so that precious time in life is not wasted looking up on one’s smartphone the meaning behind every polysyllabic word or historical allusion?

Furthermore, let us not throw the baby out with the bath water: there is some content that needs to be internalized.  We cannot get by in life on skills alone – great as they may be; we need our doctors, nurses, lawyers, and politicians, even educators, to know a wealth of content along with their varied skills.

There has long been the argument that “memorizing facts and figures isn’t as important as it once was” (since the internet became ubiquitous, anyway), but let us not overlook that a person who has internalized certain facts and figures generally understands them better – and can apply them better – than a person who needs to look them up.  Moreover, the need to memorize information would have been obviated . if at all, with the establishment of local libraries, for the difference between these and smartphones is only a matter of speed.  As we can see, though, people still need to know stuff.

What concerns me most, perhaps, about this new “plan” is, ironically, the very content of the skills-based curriculum, the only aspect of which that has legitimacy at a secondary level, is “creative thinking” – although critical thinking, a more valuable skill, is notably absent.

The other “skills” are so broad and uneducational that I wonder how our policy-makers and administrators define education. “Cooperation” is a parenting issue that schools can only attempt to reinforce, nothing more. “Self-motivation” simply isn’t a skill; it’s a trait that again depends mostly on a child’s up-bringing.

I hope “decision-making” is a synonym for critical thinking, otherwise its obscurity is laughable. To say that these skills “give students the skills necessary to be successful in the future” is to say that something as vague as decision-making is all that is really required, for certainly that broadly covers all other skills.

Being successful in the future means expanding our expectations, not limiting them to four, poorly-defined concepts that are already being taught and modeled and reinforced. Show me a classroom where these qualities are not fostered.

Unfortunately, the most recent “experiment” in the remedial summer program is being touted as a model to follow on the path to this new curriculum and “education-system”.  This, after only one month of often educationally-irrelevant field-trips. I would hope the long-term effects of such a method of schooling would be closely examined before implementing it.

Certainly, a near 100 per cent success rate is impressive, but how does that compare to the success rate of the “traditional” summer-school classes?

Furthermore, how is success being defined?  It seems to me that the government’s New Education Plan has redefining success as its primary goal, and I wonder what this will mean for my and my children’s futures living in this future society where success means not the ability to better comprehend, consider, and communicate, but rather the exploration of an area of interest and a presentation or project that proves you didn’t completely waste your time.

L.M. Hetherington

Maple Ridge