In an unprecedented start to the school year, B.C. children headed back to classes this week amid a rush to hire new teachers and create more classroom space.
Last year, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled on restoring limits on class size and composition to 2002 levels. Some school districts in the province have struggled to accommodate the changes, resulting in students taking class in the gym and administrators scrambling to fill teaching positions.
B.C. Education Minister Rob Fleming said although the adjustments are challenging and not all the school districts have met the start-of-school deadline, it marks a welcome change to discussions about public education in the province.
"Previously, we would be talking about cuts, layoffs, redundancies, larger class sizes and less learning supports," Fleming said. "Now, we are talking about how can we hire enough teachers and specialist teachers fast enough."
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Fleming had previously served as the opposition critic for education and said some of the difficulties being faced now were inherited from the previous government.
"There certainly are a lot of problems that we've inherited," he said. "We are trying to separate what is normal every September. There is always a little bit of adjustment, versus what is historic in terms of the new changes in the school system. We'll have a better idea of that in the weeks to come."
Message of change
The ministry's message is one of change, Fleming said, and this will impact the government's relationship with teachers in the province.
"The message coming from Premier John Horgan to the teaching profession at large has been one that says: "Look, we don't want to fight you. We don't want chaos and confrontation," he said. "It's about showing respect in tangible ways but also from the very leadership of government."
One of those tangible signs of respect, Fleming said, will be visible in the budget coming out next week.
"We've had limited time but I think we've made a budget that is responsible, that is respectful both to the agreement that was signed on behalf of British Columbia and also respectful to schools districts," Fleming said.
Listen to Course Correction: Beginning the new era of B.C. education on CBC Radio 1 from Sept. 5 to 8, 2017.