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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 17, Number 4, January/February 2005

The Primary Program: Power within the pages

by Glen Gough

In 1990, the Ministry of Education released The Primary Program. In 2000, the ministry updated and rereleased it as The Primary Program: A Framework for Teaching. Today, despite practices that contradict its spirit, the document is still "recognized by Minister’s Order #M283/98, which identifies The Primary Program as an educational program guide." It is the only "comprehensive, general overview for primary educators" recognized in our province, it has achieved worldwide recognition and exposure (by notable educators Carla Hannaford and Alfie Kohn, to name just a couple), it has been used in other jurisdictions as their model for quality primary instruction (Iowa, Nebraska, Kentucky, Oregon, and others), and it "integrates current knowledge and research (italics mine) on learning and teaching" (The Primary Program, p. 13).

The philosophy is rock solid. There is power within its pages. What makes it such a worthwhile document for all primary teachers? Revisiting the most important aspects of the document should remind all teachers of its relevance in our professional practice.

Contained within its pages is unmistakable genuine care for children. Teachers care. We know we are not simply teaching to the top 80% of children. Every teacher can attest to the individuality of the children they teach. We are serving children from a diverse community, with a multitude of experiences, histories, and cultural realities. It is ridiculous to think, and irresponsible to assume, that any cookie-cutter program, test, policy, or teaching style, will work for all children. Let us be honest: The hardest hit when such tactics are used or imposed are the most vulnerable children in the system. The Primary Program graciously allows teachers to teach and modify to every child’s needs to facilitate continuous learning mindful of where they start. "Cookie-cutter education" simply points out who is being left behind. The ability to teach within the primary program’s philosophy allows teachers to guide every child toward her or his highest potential.

"The program addresses the development of the whole child." (p. 16). The five areas of development—the artistic, the emotional and social, the intellectual, the physical, and the socially responsible—are crucial for all human beings. The primary years are the foundation on which we build the future success of students in school, and adults in society. Sacrificing one area of development for another, risks damaging the all-important foundation. "The five areas that together address the development of the whole child provide the foundation on which The Primary Program is built." (p. 20).

It recognizes that the value of play in the primary classroom should never be minimized. "Through play, children represent their knowledge and further explore their world. Play should be seen as an essential experience that extends, enhances, and enriches a child’s learning (p. 33–34). We need only to stop by a primary classroom to see when the students are most engaged: during the playtime. Play is vital for children to learn how to interact with the world. Even as we age, although the play may change, our need for engaging in the activity does not. However, increasingly, playtime, whatever you may call that time, is being lost for "more accountable" activities. This is a loss to the quality education our children deserve. One researcher, J. Brierley, as quoted in the program, states, "all forms of play appear to be essential for the intellectual, imaginative, and emotional development of the child and may well be necessary steps to a further stage of development." (p. 34).

One of the greatest assets The Primary Program gives to us is the section on assessment, evaluation and reporting (p. 158–175). Whatever the techniques used by teachers to gather information on their students’ learning or how that information is reported to parents, we know from countless sources that assessment and evaluation must, in the end, support the child’s learning. It must help teachers to make new plans for instruction. The whole process is aimed at student improvement, and it values the student as an individual, as well as the teacher’s professional experience, knowledge, and caring for each student.

The involvement of parents in a child’s education is also a priority outlined in the primary document. Parents’ involvement in the primary years is important, but "the benefits of parental involvement are not confined to the early years; there are significant gains at all ages and grade levels" (p. 180). Communication is the key. Without effective, ongoing communication, there is little likelihood that you will have the positive parental involvement that is necessary to develop a beneficial learning partnership.

What contributes to the power within the pages more than anything, however, is the abundance and variety of research support for the principles of The Primary Program. All the research: had similar conclusions from a variety of sources and methodologies, met rigorous criteria, had conclusions that were appropriately comparable, and the evidence is compelling (p. 17–18). The program is full of quality and convincing research on how best to meet the needs of the primary children in British Columbia.

The Primary Program is still relevant, or should be, to ALL primary teachers today. Take it off your shelf, and give it another read. There is power within the pages. Despite current trends in our education system, the research contained within this document is irrefutable, and if primary teachers are to provide the highest quality of education to our youngest learners, The Primary Program is a must. Find your copy today, or go to www.bced.gov.bc.ca/primary_program/welcome.htm  to download or print yourself a new copy.

It is time we take a stand, holding up our copy of The Primary Program, and let those who attempt to minimize it know that the highest quality should never be taken from our children.

Glen Gough is a Kindergarten teacher at G.W. Carlson Elementary School, Fort Nelson, and first vice-president of the B.C. Primary Teachers’ Association.

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