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Embracing change

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There was a funny post on social media the other day.

It said, in essence, "I took the path less travelled and... now I have no idea where I am."

In the simplest of analyses it would not be wrong to suggest that many parents are feeling this way right now as our education system appears to be going through a sea change.

No one would argue that the education system needs to come out of the era of the Industrial Revolution and into the 21st century, but there appears to be a great deal of uncertainty for parents about what that means for the students.

No parent wants their kids to be the guinea pigs.

This week we learned more about the provincial government's plans as new education minister Mike Bernier, who is visiting our school district next week, takes the helm of the portfolio.

The mandate handed him by Christy Clark directs him to, among other things, work with teachers and the BC School Trustees Association to restructure and improve the collective bargaining process, to continue the educational reforms to implement the new K to Grade 9 curriculum and work with teachers to develop the new Grade 10 to 12 curriculums.

Of most concern to parents is what the new curriculum looks like and what its impact will be.

For the last couple of years the Sea to Sky district has been working on its Pathways to Learning plan, which has in some cases put it ahead of the curve when it comes to the mandate from the province.

But it is by no means working seamlessly across the district — and top of mind remains the uncertainty about what all this means for university applications at the end of the road for students.

The reality is universities look at marks — that is one of the main ways they assess learning. This is not the place to argue the right or wrong of this form of assessment for learning — it is just a stated fact.

And the elephant in the room, of course, is the teachers. Many have embraced the concepts put forward in the new curriculum for years with most in elementary schools doing it almost naturally.

But high school is another matter altogether — students move from class to class, and for the most part old models are followed with teachers lecturing from the front, courses heavy on content and marks determined by endless tests and exams.

This is a system that cannot be changed without teachers being given real and substantial support, and that has to reach out to students and parents too.

In fact this new curriculum will put a great deal of pressure on parents, as they are going to have to be the ones reaching out to teachers and asking the tough questions about whether their kids are getting what they need.

How on earth are teachers going to be able to give one-one-one help to high school students as the youth direct their own learning?

What will be the impact of this new model on those who want to apply to post-secondary education? Universities and colleges want your Calculus 12 mark, your Chem 12 mark, your English 12 mark, and they better be above 85 per cent or you won't get in. A beautiful project assessed for collaboration, critical thinking, and communication is unlikely to sway an admissions officer at a university.

There is no getting away from the fact that education, like everything in this world, needs to evolve. We cannot have our children learn in a vacuum of knowledge that is out of date for today's global needs.

Perhaps the question around curriculum is 'Are we going far enough?'

The U.K. is in the midst of its own education revolution. Every single school in England — all 16,000 primary schools and 3,500 secondary schools — are on a high-tech path with computer science now a mandatory subject for all students, starting at age five, and continuing through to the end of high school.

From Australia to Holland, educators are shifting away from merely teaching software programs and toward teaching computer code — the language that tells computers how to run the software.

Last year, Chicago elevated computer science to a core subject in all public high schools.

This change is coming from an increasing understanding that computer coding is our new way of communicating, and it is as important today as reading, writing and arithmetic.

Savvy leaders don't want people just checking in on their social media feeds. They want them understanding how the software works.

The federal government recently predicted that jobs in the so-called STEM fields — science, technology engineering and math — would grow by 12 per cent between 2013 and 2022. And 35 per cent of those jobs are expected to be computer science-related.

Last year, former employment minister Jason Kenney bemoaned the fact that Canadian companies say they can't find high-tech workers to fill vacancies.

So here's hoping that as we move into the development of new curriculum for B.C.'s high school that we look around at best practices and study what is needed for the future, as there is no point in teaching youth skills for jobs that won't exist.

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