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Whistler hosts arm of unique education e-conference

One of five conference sites, local presentations will focus on literacy

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Hundreds of parents, teachers, administrators and educational partners are taking part in a first-of-its kind for B.C. e-conference on learning.

"I think this reflects some very innovative thinking and hopefully demonstrates the way of the future," said Minister of Education Shirley Bond.

The Interactive Innovations Conference takes place today (May 25) and Friday and will use web-based conferences to link five educational issues and seven key-note speakers in five different locations in B.C. – Whistler, Kelowna, Prince George, Nelson and Victoria.

All the locations will be interconnected online in real time. Each site will focus on one theme and will webcast the keynote presentations to the other sites. Participants will be able to interact in each session.

The focus issue in Whistler will be literacy, in Kelowna it is early learning, in Nelson it is secondary learners, in Victoria it is shared leadership and in Prince George it is equitable futures.

At the root of the conference, which is costing the government $350,000, is the province’s stated goal of making B.C. the best-educated, most literate jurisdiction by 2010.

Bond believes the conference will help achieve this goal by getting information to those on the front lines of education so they can use what they learn at the conference in their schools.

"We know that providing professional and personal development is a key factor in improving student achievement," said Bond.

"…This is really a chance to showcase best practices and that always makes a difference in our classroom."

Bond said hosting the conference, expected to have over 700 participants, in locations all over the province, also ensured that information was shared even in the far reaches of B.C.

It’s not uncommon, said the Prince George MLA, for those in the north to feel they are left out of opportunities because of geographic location.

"…This is one of the things that I think can make a difference over time," said Bond.

The ministry also gave $36,000 to school districts to make sure that parents in the hosting and surrounding communities could attend the conference, which costs $295 per delegate.

About 138 delegates will attend the conference in Whistler.

Cathy Jewett, the chair of the District Parent Advisory Council for the Sea to Sky area, believes attending conferences like this helps parents understand educational issues in the school, arms them with information to push for change when needed, and allows parents to network.

When the minister visited the district in March, said Jewett, Bond was told that this type of conference was just the kind of thing parents and educators needed.

"This is the sort of thing we talked to her about," said Jewett. "Creating opportunities for parents to network with other educators and be a part of the system.

"(It’s about) building communication that will improve relationships so that when I do have a problem, when I do have a question, when I do have an issue, I know who I can talk to."

While Jewett applauds the ministry’s move to host the conference it does present a real challenge for parents, as does the increasing role the government wants parents to play in education.

"It wants to increase parent involvement," said Jewett. "And we support that, but it doesn’t seem that we are able to expand our base of support because of the day to day commitments families face.

"The thing we all have in common is that we have kids, we all have responsibilities and a lot of us have jobs. So when we go off to do this stuff it means not only are we having to leave our jobs and not earn money, but also our families need to be taken care of too. "

For more information on the conference go to www.interactiveinnovations.ca. A CD of the conference will be available after the event and those interested in attending can go to the Westin Resort and Spa and register today.

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