Opinion: Federal funds should be an investment into the future of BC's education system

Sep 10 2020, 12:09 am

Written for Daily Hive by BC Green Party MLA and former high school teacher Sonia Furstenau.

Teachers are very familiar with the idea of “planning backwards.” We start with the outcomes we want our students to achieve, then we work on a unit plan and lesson plans that move towards those outcomes, with each lesson building on the previous one.

In planning for reopening schools in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the government should start by working with teachers, administrators, parents, and students to define the outcomes we hope to achieve in this school year and beyond.

What should the academic, social, and emotional expectations be for students this year and in the years and decades ahead?

What are the outcomes we want for students facing a world not just altered by COVID-19 but a world increasingly impacted by climate change, inequality, and coming to terms with systemic racism?

What are the skills and attributes we want our youth and future leaders to have at the end of their public-school education?

The stakes in education were high before COVID-19. With increasing mental health challenges and an unprecedented number of deaths from opioid overdoses and other addictions, our children will graduate into a society that is grappling with multiple crises.

Administrators, teachers and support staff have been responding to these stressors with the tools they have been given, but if we want to see better outcomes, we need to provide more.

COVID-19 presented us with that opportunity — this is the opportunity this government has not yet seized.

The Ministry of Education could have — and should have — taken the approach of defining outcomes and building the programs to meet them. This could have been a watershed moment for education in British Columbia.

For example, the Minister of Education could have used this opportunity to reduce class sizes to build innovative delivery strategies to accommodate all types of learning and their circumstances.

This is a battle that has been years in the making between the BC government and teachers, parents, and students. It must be confusing for parents who believed an NDP government would implement the changes they were so vocal in supporting while in opposition.

The opportunity of this moment we are in is not lost on parents and teachers in the province.

The BC Teachers’ Federation immediately responded with a list of concerns to the government’s in-school status-quo plan released last month. In response to these concerns and those raised by parents and the general public, the ministry — at nearly the final hour — directed school administrators to include a range of academic delivery options.

Administrators have been working tirelessly to provide multiple options to students who are restricted in their movements due to the necessary public health restrictions, work that could have — should have — been done with more than a week before the start of school.

The Lord Strathcona Parent Advisory Council published a letter that asks the province to ensure that physical distancing is a requirement and consider what alternative solutions could be considered to ensure that physical distancing is possible for all students and teachers.

They have asked that all schools provide a virtual learning option so there is equity across the province, and they are asking that children not lose their spots in their existing public school if they opt for an alternative at this time.

This is not the time to try to fit our altered world into an existing public education framework. This is the moment to build a new framework that will ensure that this generation — and future generations — of students are equipped for the world they are inheriting.

The $242 million in funding from the federal government should be seen as the beginning of the investment into a transformation of public education in BC, not the final band-aid on a framework that was long overdue for rebuilding.

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