Big changes blowing in education wind

The recent Throne Speech signaled that big changes lie ahead for B.C.'s public education system, and these will likely dwarf anything seen in recent memory.

The speech dealt with modernizing how we educate kids, and the changes have the potential of being radical ones.

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As well, it hinted the power of the B.C. Teachers' Federation is about to be diminished on several fronts, notably when it comes to disciplining teachers and controlling how teachers move around the system. The government appears ready to wrest more control over what happens in classrooms, and that means clipping the BCTF's wings.

Our graduation rate hasn't improved in years, and is stuck at about 80 per cent. So attempts will be made to substantially change the education experience of kids in the intermediate and senior grades.

Those in the younger grades won't be affected as much.

There will be more emphasis on distance learning, particularly of the interactive kind. This area has been growing in popularity in recent years, as classrooms have become less relevant to many kids.

The problem with relevancy can't be easily dismissed. When you think of it, has what happens in the classroom on a daily basis really changed all that much since, say, the 1960s?

The disconnect between the classroom and students can be seen by the increasing number of kids who have opted for the distance learning option.

Distance learning will continue to grow, and individualized learning will also likely get more emphasis as well. Instead of being stuck in a curriculum that holds little interest, a student may be given the resources to shape a course along their own lines that encompasses several areas of learning.

These are all lofty goals, and I wonder whether there will truly be enough resources in the system to see them come to fruition.

But education reformers have been pushing for these kinds of changes for years, and the implementation of those changes are about to speed up.

Two other big changes that will affect teachers have been hiding in plain sight for some time now. They are part of the proposals from the B.C.

Public Schools Employers Association, which is attempting to bargain a new contract with the teachers union.

One of the changes will be a yearly evaluation of a teachers' performance.

The other - and this is huge - will be no lon-ger using seniority as an automatic determinant in transferring or posting teachers between schools or classrooms. For years, poor teachers have been able to hang onto their positions while younger, better trained ones can't dislodge them.

A big problem in the system is the poor retention rate of young teachers. About 30 per cent of them leave the profession within five years, and one reason for that is thought to be an inflexible system that doesn't meet their needs.

The B.C. College of Teachers is also about to be transformed. The BCTF will no longer be able to single-handedly block any discipline of teachers, and what constitutes proper "professional standards" will not be dictated by the BCTF.

And there may be changes to what constitutes professional development days.

There are six pro-D days a year, and they cost taxpayers $66 million a year, but the vast majority of people have no idea what they are actually used for and whether or not they are effective.

Add it all up, and it looks like a complete overhaul of a system that affects thousands of people.

But it's not going to be easy to get it all done without some nasty fights among those in the system itself.

Keith Baldrey is chief political correspondent for Global BC

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