British Columbia

New 'flexible' school curriculum goes province-wide next week

A new school curriculum will move kindergarten to Grade 9 learning away from "memory and recall" and towards "knowledge and deep understanding," says Education Minister Mike Bernier.

Curriculum moving towards 'knowledge and deep understanding' from 'memory and recall,' says ministry

OCDSB says it will not administer EQAO math tests to Grade 9 students this week. (iStock)

A new school curriculum will roll out next week across the province and emphasize individual interests and passions of students, according to the Ministry of Education.

Communication, thinking, and personal and social competency are at the core of the updated curriculum, which will be implemented from kindergarten through Grade 9.

The ministry says the new core is meant to encourage "deep understanding and applications of knowledge", as opposed to "memory and recall of facts."

"We want to make sure that [learning] is not just the sitting down and the memorization" said Education Minister Mike Bernier on CBC's BC Almanac Education, adding that the province wants to allow students the opportunity to explore different topics they are interested in while still promoting the basics, including reading, writing, and arithmetic.

"Instead of being as prescriptive on a certain topic, why not give the opportunity for the student to pick the topic?" said Bernier. "The end goal will still be the same: they can learn something they're passionate about."

The ministry of education states there "is no requirement for teachers to organize classrooms, schools or instruction in this manner," adding that the power is in B.C. teachers' hands to come up with creative ways to adjust their curriculum to better suit the needs of the students.

Bernier says a $7 million investment has been made to train and equip teachers to adjust to the new curriculum.

B.C. Education Minister Mike Bernier says he envisions a school system where students pursue their individual passions. (Simon Charland-Faucher/CBC)

'Shaking' things up

Langley teacher Adam Walders was one of the participants involved in developing the new curriculum. In fall 2014, his school piloted new ways of teaching that ultimately made their way into the revised curriculum, including adjusting learning modules that matched students' interests.

"The tangible differences really came up in how we went about planning, and choosing topics to engage kids in," he said.

Walders says a notable example was when students returned to school after Christmas break and he noticed them buzzing about a recent earthquake. He took advantage of their interest, and developed a four-week unit on earthquakes based on a pool of questions the students had put together, replacing a lesson that he originally had planned.

He says by shifting the focus of the class, students were able to come away with a deep understanding of the scientific method.

"It was much more focused on scientific thinking, such as testing hypotheses and analyzing the results of experiments," says Walders.

Reinventing the wheel?

Some members of the province's education sector, however, question how game-changing the ministry's commitment really is.

Retired B.C. teacher Julie Gleadow says adjusting the class curriculum to capitalize on students' interests isn't anything new.

"Classrooms have been aware of teachable moments for a very, very long time — certainly in all of my teaching career," said Gleadow, who spent the majority of her 25-year career teaching intermediate elementary school in Fort St. John and Gibsons.

Gleadow doesn't question that the new curriculum will be a positive direction, but with the onus put on teachers to adjust their curriculum, she wants to see more support for teachers from the province.

"The only people who will actually be delivering this are teachers, so I do hope that teachers are given less of a classroom load — and lots of support for students who have special needs," she said.

With files from CBC's BC Almanac

To listen to the full interview, click on the link labelled: Moving away from memory: B.C. school curriculum to focus on 'knowledge and deep understanding'


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