B.C.'s Minister of Education, Peter Fassbender, says his deputy is investigating how a Victoria teenager was awarded $16,000 to research teacher education in Finland.
According to documents acquired through a Freedom Of Information request, Anjali Vyas, then 17, was given two $8,000 grants in 2013 to travel to Helsinki and produce a paper comparing teacher preparation in Finland and B.C.
Vyas delivered her final, 14-page report last September, after spending five months at the University of Victoria and five months at the University of Helsinki according to documents obtained by the Canadian Taxpayer's Federation.
- Scroll down to read Teacher Preparation: A Comparison between British Columbia and Finland by Anjali Vyas
In a video statement issued to CBC News Tuesday, Vyas defended the assignment, saying it grew from a deep interest in education and development.
"This project was by no means the result of a whim. It was the result of much hard work and sacrifice," she said.
"It is simply misleading to say that the $16,000 all went towards funding a teenager's trip to Finland. This was not a vacation. I was working every single day to complete this project."
Vyas says that even with the funding, she still spent a considerable amount of her own money on the project and it is hurtful to hear negative comments about her work.
"I am proud of what I accomplished with the Ministry of Education and I believe it is important to involve youth, as they are the very people who make up the majority of people in this education system."
Ministry offered 'small contract'
The FOI documents reveal Vyas was offered help from the Ministry of Education after meeting superintendent of achievement Rick Davis.
In one of the documents, Davis outlines how the high school graduate's interest in education was fuelled by a co-operative venture with the University of Victoria.
- Scroll down to read email correspondence relating to the funding
"She became interested in how teachers are trained and prepared for their work and decided to take a year off to independently look into that," Davis wrote in an internal email dated Sept. 12, 2012.
"Anjali connected with researcher Pasi Sahlberg of Finland who invited her to the University of Helsinki to pursue her interest.
"I got wind of this and asked that she do a comparative analysis for us of how teachers are prepared in Finland and how they are prepared in B.C. — Finland being a very high performing and culturally different place.
"I have offered her a small contract to support her work in this," Davis wrote.
Taxpayers' Federation concerned
But Canadian Taxpayers' Federation director Jordan Bateman says Vyas' final document still reads like a high school report, and questions whether there was real value for money in funding the trip.
Bateman said upon reviewing the more than 100 pages of documents related to this case, he believes the superintendent skirted around normal protocols.
"The problem here is the person was handpicked, sole-sourced. We're not even sure why and there are much better ways to get that type of input."
The minister of education says he's concerned about the no-bid contract that was brought to light by the Canadian Taxpayers' Federation.
"Yes, I was concerned when I heard about it, and that's why I've asked the deputy to look into it," said Fassbender.
In a statement Tuesday, the minister said he had directed his deputy to ensure all procedures are followed and make any adjustments necessary.
“British Columbia has one of the best public education systems in the world, in no small part to dedicated educators in our ministry and around the province,” said the statement.
“This matter highlights the public's expectation that government is managing our spending of taxpayer dollars. In a period of fiscal restraint, we need to demonstrate extra prudence in our spending commitments."