British Columbia

Vancouver School Board cuts honours programs

Honours math and science will be cut from secondary schools this fall, and honours English has already been discontinued.

School board says honours programs create inequities between students

Vancouver students will no longer have the option to take accelerated honours programs. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

The Vancouver School Board is cutting honours programs for secondary school students effective this fall. 

Honours math and science will be cut, and honours English has already been discontinued.

Eric Hamber secondary and Magee secondary are the last two schools to offer honours math and science, as conversations about cancelling honours programs began more than five years ago.

In an emailed statement to CBC News, a school board spokesperson said honours courses create inequities for students. 

"By phasing out these courses, all students will have access to an inclusive model of education, and all students will be able to participate in the curriculum fulsomely," the statement reads.

Stephen Kosar, a Grade 10 student at Eric Hamber secondary, says he was unengaged with his studies until he enrolled in the honours program.

"I actually flourished, I actually took pride in what I was doing and learned something," he said. 

His mother, Lina Jung-Kosar, also took the honours program when she attended Eric Hamber secondary, and said she wouldn't be where she is today without that option.

"I know other families may have the advantage to be able to provide extra-curricular or extra tutoring to students to help them achieve their full potential, but my socio-economic background when I was growing up didn't allow me to do that," she said.

Marc Rudolph's oldest daughter is enrolled in the honours program for math and science at Eric Hamber. He says the program engaged her and provided a challenge she wouldn't have had otherwise. 

"I'm pretty annoyed that other people are not going to get the benefit of these programs, which are really valuable to kids that are into science and technology," he said. 

Marc Rudolph says the honours program at Eric Hamber Secondary pushed his daughter to be more engaged with science and math, and worries other children won't have the same opportunities. (Jim Mulleder/CBC)

He said the school board's argument that removing the honours program will be more equitable for students is false. In fact, he said, it's inequitable not to offer that opportunity.

"Some kids are good at math and science and enjoy it and some kids aren't. I don't know why the intention is to say everybody must be lumped in together in one in one big group. It doesn't really serve any purpose for anybody, really."

The school board said mini schools are still an option, and advanced placement courses will be offered for students looking for more challenging coursework. The school board added that honours courses "do not provide enrichment" because they are accelerated courses, and don't have a unique and defined curriculum compared to regular coursework. 

Additionally, they said honours standing is not tied to honours courses — honours standing is awarded to any student with an "outstanding level of achievement." To be eligible, students must meet provincial graduation requirements and obtain a grade point average higher than 3.0 in their best 76 credits for required courses and electives.

In their statement, the Vancouver School Board said, "Teachers support the diverse needs of all students in their classes through differentiated instruction — and this includes enrichment."

Treena Goolieff, president of the Vancouver Secondary Teacher's Association, said that while teachers are used to teaching classes of around 30 children, differentiated learning is "aspirational" and works better with small groups. 

"The idea of streaming as a general principle isn't something that we support," Goolieff told On the Coast host Gloria Macarenko.

"At the same time, providing a really comprehensive opportunity to all kids sometimes is best served in a classroom where there is just a select group of kids that are able to handle the intensity of the curriculum or the pace."

With files from Joel Ballard and On the Coast

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