The Attributes of a Good Public Education, a Critique of BC’s Redesigned Curriculum, and the Importance of Critical Thinking
Presenter: Thor Henrich
Long time educator Thor Henrich has examined the BC Education Ministries new curriculum https://curriculum.gov.bc.ca/sites/curriculum.gov.bc.ca/files/pdf/curriculum_intro.pdf. He would like to share his critique of this curriculum with us. He is asking that you read through this material and bring your ideas to the discussion. Please scroll down to see the Questions.
Here is Thor’s letter to the Minister of Education:
To: BC Ministry of Education
November 8, 2016
Re: Redesigned BC Curriculum
I am a retired educator, having taught science courses at the secondary, college, and university level, from 1961-2011, in various jurisdictions: secondary schools in Victoria, the Horticultural Centre of the Pacific (HCP), University of Victoria (Biology; Education), College of Marin, San Quentin Prison, University of Manitoba, intermediate schools in California, etc, and thus gained experience in a variety of teaching situations. I have read the Ministry of Education information on the Redesigned BC Curriculum, and am pleased that it attempts to be more flexible, but am concerned that its laudatory goals are unachievable as outlined. The devil is in the details.
I have 10 questions regarding the redesigned BC Curriculum. Please provide a written response for each. I here abbreviate the Redesigned BC Curriculum as RDC, and the Ministry
of Education as the MOE.
1. If, as stated in the Introduction to British Columbia’s Redesigned Curriculum, “British Columbia has one of the best education systems in the world”, and “students are performing
near the top of international assessments” what is the evidence that radical change is needed at this time? Isn’t modern society constantly in flux and ‘at a crossroads’ needing a
technological fix? What was the source for the necessity for a RDC at this moment in time?
2. Given that the MOE has proscribed the WHAT of the RDC, but not the HOW it is to be implemented, of what value is the “Instructional Tools to Support the Implementation of
British Columbia’s Redesigned Curriculum”? (MEd Thesis, by Sarah McQuillan, March 2015) in aiding teachers to implement the RDC? What part of the RDC was “based on solid
research, extensive consultation, and classroom successes from around the world (“We didn’t do this in a vacuum”…)? What is the professional background of the MOE experts
(local and beyond) who advised on the development of the RDC?
3. Has the RDC been field-tested prior to its provincial implementation? Is there proof that the RDC will work as planned? Given a transition period of only one year (2016-2017) before full implementation of the RDC in British Columbia in 2017-2018, is this enough time to make the mandated changes?
4. As the RDC places greater emphasis on developing concepts rather than memorizing of facts, is this the reason for the elimination of provincial exams in the fact-rich courses in the sciences and social studies? Why have facts in subject courses been relegated to optional ‘Elaborations’? Why are all of the ‘Curricular Competencies’ for all Grade 11 and 12 science courses exactly the same (including “Apply First Nations perspectives and knowledge, other ways of knowing, and local knowledge as a sources of information”)? Have core subjects in the sciences and social studies been deemed of less importance to future citizens of British Columbia for their entry into a global world? Why were these courses in particular eliminated from provincial examinations?
5. One new requirement of the RDC is that all courses and grades must contain Aboriginal (First Nations) content about their languages, history, and cultures, ostensibly to teach native children about their own backgrounds. Some native knowledge is not to be shared with nonnative children, as it is sacred and only can be shared with permission. Upper level courses in the hard sciences (physics, chemistry, biology, geology, etc.) are based on scientific enquiry and methodology developed in Europe and not from native cultures of BC. Also, It is not clear whether the aboriginal content will be based on current native cultures, or more academic studies from an historical, archaeological or anthropological perspective. The RDC emphasizes the importance of native concepts of sustainability and ‘interconnectedness’. Does not the emphasis on aboriginal studies constitute a bias against other cultures, ie. Chinese presence in BC, religious groups such as Christian or Muslim fundamentalists, or GLBT communities? So the question becomes: How, What, When and Why the requirement for aboriginal studies for all students?
6. The RDC places great emphasis on learner-centered education, involving the development of individualized courses of study, reflective of the interests and abilities of each student, so they learn to think creatively and critically, and can reflect upon their learning experiences as they mature through the educational process. Concepts are developed on a ‘Know-Do-Understanding’ model of learning. However, if incoming students are unaware of the nature of subjects and courses in the new RDC, how can they design their own personalized curriculum?
Would you agree that it is a bad idea that pupils can discover complex ideas all by themselves?
Given the fact that teachers have a student load of 30 students (elementary) or more (often 5 classes/day in secondary schools), when, where and how are they to find the time and
resources to prepare an individualized course of studies for each student?
7. The BCTF as well as individual teachers have expressed their concerns regarding the demands of the RDC, viz. sufficient time in the working day to develop new course units,
implement new procedures; the lack of financial aid, materials, supporting personnel, understanding the new curriculum, lack of scope and sequence in subject areas, incorporating
new technologies, etc. Conscientious teachers will be hard-pressed to handle the increased workload imposed by the RDC, in addition to the already many required non-teaching tasks. What has the MOE done to resolve these issues?
8. The RDC has the noble aim of producing graduates who are flexible, creative and critical thinkers, who will be well-prepared to function in a rapidly changing world. Teachers understand that incoming students do not arrive as ‘tabulae rasae’, but enter with a personal background and agenda, from highly motivated, gifted, and intelligent, with supportive parents, to students suffering from neglect, drugs, mental and health issues, causing difficulties in the classroom setting. How will the MOE assist the classroom teacher to address the issues raised by the RDC?
9. The only really new part of the RDC appears to be the requirement for the inclusion of aboriginal studies throughout the curriculum and the elimination of provincial examinations in the sciences and history. Learner-centered learning has be tried many times before and generally found wanting. Is there something missing in the RDC?
10. Will the RDC itself be assessed for success in achieving the goals it wishes to achieve? What is the measurement of success for the RDC? If there is no assessment of the RC itself, how will the citizens of British Columbia know whether it has been successful or not? What plans does the MOE have to assess the RDC?
I do realize that there are many other issues regarding the RDC that have not be discussed or questioned here. I also believe in equality of opportunity for all students of all abilities, and that the present government of BC, by its apparent disdain and actual underfunding of public education, is a major impediment.
Questions 1. What are the attributes of a WELL- EDUCATED STUDENT who has graduated from the public educational system, K-12?
2. Can the newly REDESIGNED BC CURRICULUM achieve these attributes?
3. Can SECULAR HUMANISM play a role in the development of CRITICAL THINKING SKILLS?