Geoff Johnson: Now is a good time to revisit plan for public education

With a new premier and a raft of newbie school trustees in the province’s 60 school districts, it might be a good time to add public education to a list of ongoing mid- to long-term priorities Housing, health care and even the emerging impact of climate change — there’s no denying that incoming premier David Eby’s list of priorities identifies ­situations needing immediate attention. These are crises that did not appear overnight but have been months, even years, in the making, shuffled aside until they became too urgent to ignore. Fortunately, at least right now, ­public education does not fall into this “crisis” category, thanks largely to the ­commitment of B.C’s 49,000-plus teachers and administrators. But with a new premier, a revitalized provincial government and a raft of ­newbie school trustees in the province’s 60 school districts, it might be a good time to add public education to a list of ongoing mid- to long-term priorities. Right now, it is certainly reassuring that despite the COVID dip in classroom teaching/learning availability, a ­serious province-wide teacher shortage and the comparative failure of online ­learning options, B.C. students will no doubt ­continue to earn, as they have in the past, some of the best outcomes in ­reading, ­science and math from the international Program for International Student Assessment. About 600,000 students completed the PISA assessment in 2018, representing about 32 million 15-year-olds from 79 participating countries and economies, with Canadian and especially B.C. students ranking in the top percentiles. That’s all well and good for now, but looking ahead, it would be wise for ­government and education planners to recognize the evolving needs in public education, which standardized tests like PISA do not measure but which will become key issues facing Canada’s fast-changing learning ecosystems. These are the education essentials that influential national entities such as the Conference Board of Canada identify as significant skills needed for success in tomorrow’s careers. The Conference Board lists ­employability skills — which are difficult to measure and include in the traditional curricula of public education — in four categories. First, there are “fundamental skills,” including the ability to communicate effectively — to read, understand and communicate information presented in a variety of forms (e.g., words, graphs, charts, diagrams). Another desirable fundamental skill is the ability to manage information — to locate, gather and organize information using appropriate technology and ­information systems. Managing information is also about the ability to analyze and apply knowledge and skills from various disciplines to the tasks at hand. It will be important, says the ­Conference Board, for employees to be able to think and solve problems, to assess situations and identify the root cause of a problem by seeking different points of view based on facts. A second category of skills ­essential to any career — or even an ­ongoing ­academic situation — is ­personal ­management skills, ­including ­adaptability, being able to work ­independently or as part of a team, and the ability to carry out multiple tasks or projects. A commitment to continuous ­learning while assessing personal strengths and areas for development will also be ­important to achieving career success, no matter what the academic or skills-related career path. Taking all this into account, it’s a good thing that B.C.’s education plan, as ­outlined as far back as 2011 and ­articulated by then Education ­Minister George Abbott, comprised five key ­elements: personalized learning for every student, quality teaching and ­learning, more flexibility and choice, high ­standards and learning empowered by technology. Translating those foundations into functional reality is key to a ­reorganization of the goals and objectives of the K-12 curriculum, a re-evaluation of teacher training, a fresh look at what the implications are for post-COVID school design and the problem of integrating new technology into current curriculum being delivered in old buildings — just to name a few issues to be addressed and resolved. Perhaps now, with a new premier and the list of revitalized priorities for government, would be a good time to revisit the degree to which those five key elements of the B.C. plan for education have been operationalized, along with the development of a timeline for movement toward the evolution of 21st century ­public education in B.C. Geoff Johnson is a former superintendent of schools.
Be the first to comment